44 colleges pioneer program to recruit low-income, high-achieving students

The more rigorous and engaging the classes are the better

A new pilot program will allow public high school students to use Pell grants to pay for dual enrollment, the Obama administration announced Monday.

Research has linked participation in dual-enrollment programs with higher GPAs, as well as college enrollment and persistence rates. But even though 1.4 million high school students earn college credits before high school graduation, minority and low-income students are underrepresented, according to the Education Commission of the States.  

The White House hopes to change that by providing up to $20 million in Pell grants to about 10,000 high school students in fall 2016, allowing them to pay for college courses.

"The courses students take in high school … are major factors not only in whether students go to college, but also how well they will do when they get there. The more rigorous and engaging the classes are the better," says Education Secretary John King Jr.

Participants in the new program include 44 colleges, 80% of which are community colleges. To participate, institutions must help students complete the FAFSA, provide academic support, and allow students to enroll in at least 12 credit hours. Schools must also make sure that Pell students' financial aid and grants cover all expenses. 

Best practices for managing dual enrollment programs

Only students at public high schools are eligible for the first round of the pilot, which is scheduled to last for three years. The program may expand in the future.

However, some people have expressed concern that early Pell access may mean students run out of funds—which can only be used for 12 semesters—before completing college.

Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell says that's unlikely. "Rather than burning Pell dollars, these grants will accelerate students' trajectory toward completing a degree on time or early, at cost or lower cost," he says (Douglas-Gabriel, "Grade Point," Washington Post, 5/16). 

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