Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Pell grants

Today, a panel of experts determined that Pell grants were a waste of money. I didn't read the report, but I heard what they said about it on NPR. Apparently, they said that too many grant students dropped out of college. Why? They had enrolled in colleges with high dropout rates, or they had quit because they had to work.

Why should they have to work? The grant supplies them with ca $3750 for their studies. I can't remember whether the story said on average or maximum. Either way, my answer is clear.

The answer isn't to cut Pell grants, but to increase them. $3750 is nothing compared to what students pay for their education, when they could pay over $50,000 a year. If they go to a university that costs significantly less, they are likely to be in ones that have higher dropout rates. If they dropout to work, they are probably struggling to pay the rest of their tuition. If the grants were higher, that wouldn't be so much of a problem.

They also said some students weren't ready for college. Very few are, and in some cases, college is really just High School 2.0, a stopping place on the way to graduate school, where much of the real learning takes place. In many cases an undergraduate degree only provides the rudiments to enable students to step to the next level, and as such teaches little more than rote learning. It is in graduate school where students assimilate and apply that knowledge. Personally speaking, I didn't know how much I knew until I took my qualifying exams for my doctorate.

Those Pell grants, as meager as they are, enable students to attempt college who might not otherwise have a chance. Even if only (say) 10% of the students go on to their degree, that other 90% at least took a stab at it, and might have found a love of learning that they wouldn't otherwise have realized. College isn't for everyone, but some won't know that until they try it, and who knows how much they might learn in that 1-2 years before they drop out.

Too many people these days have a jaded look at results. They must get an A, or they must finish their degree, and that degree must get them a high-paying job. Nothing is guaranteed, but you will never know if you succeed until you try. Not only is there merit in making the attempt, but there is benefit in gaining knowledge even if you don't complete the degree.

Don't cut Pell grants. Expand them into a program that will enable students to go to and finish college without crippling financial hardship. The opposite would dumb down the population, and while it might make Republicans happy (more under-educated people tend to vote Republican) and save money from the budget, it may cost us more in the long run.

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