Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Pell Grant reform boosts rural community colleges

Of the 860 U.S. community colleges or college districts, 64 percent are rural, and rural community colleges enroll 37 percent of all two-year college students, compared to 31 percent for urban community colleges. Now the extension of the Pell Grant program to allow students use during all three semesters (spring, summer and fall) instead of two of the three has provided new opportunities for rural community college students, Stephen G. Katsinas, director of the Education Policy Center at the University of Alabama, writes for the Daily Yonder.

The extension to three semesters, authorized by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 is particularly helpful for rural students as prior research from the Rural Community College Alliance and the MidSouth Partnership for Rural Community Colleges revealed "rural community college students incur roughly 6 of every 10 loans among all first-time, full-time U.S. community college students," Katsinas writes. Enrollment at all community colleges has jumped by 2.2 million, roughly 30 percent, in the last five years with rural community colleges seeing the largest increase at 42 percent compared to 21 percent at urban community colleges and 27 percent at suburban ones.

Bevill State Community College, a four-campus community college district that serves a sprawling, sparsely populated area of west-central Alabama, reports enrollment so far this summer is up 13 percent from 2009 with over one-sixth of the record enrollment using the new year-long Pell Grant. Preliminary enrollment at the Pickens County campus is at 249, up from 106 in summer 2009. Three-fourths of the189 students enrolled this summer are using a Pell Grant.

"Rural America’s stake in expanding Pell Grant funding cannot be overstated," Katsinas writes. "This program expands opportunities and changes lives, and will help our nation increase the number of Americans with baccalaureate degrees. Simply put, it’s the most important, effective human resource development program our country has, one that’s vital for rural renewal and innovation." (Read more)

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