by Dr. Karen A. Stout
President, Montgomery County Community College
Montgomery County Community College student Patricia Banks, a resident of Schwenksville, has plans for the future. Her path may be dependent on the decision legislators in Washington make about trimming spending and reducing the budget deficit.
The Pell Grant program – which provides access to nearly 10 million students to enroll in and complete college each year – is threatened, despite the increase in demand for Pell grants.
The Pell program, named after the founder and late Senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island, started in 1972. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, Pell grants make higher education accessible to students from low-income families by providing grant funds up to $5,550 per year. The increase in Pell demand has been triggered in part by non-traditional students, who lost their jobs during the recession, and are enrolling at community colleges to increase their skills and further their education.
Patricia, 42, is one of these non-traditional students. After her employer downsized, Patricia was unable to find employment because she lacked a college degree. Instead of giving up, Patricia enrolled in the Accounting program at Montgomery County Community College and is grateful for the support she received from the Pell grant program–the only way she could afford an education.
When asked what the Pell grant program meant to her, Patricia, an Honors student and a member of Phi Theta Kappa, replied, “Sometimes in order to succeed, people need a little help, and the Pell grant offers that.” She continued to say, “The Pell grant has given me an education, and with that, a new perspective on life, even at my age, and the ability to set academic goals and to achieve them. Without this funding, I will not be able to continue to get my baccalaureate degree.”
At Montgomery County Community College, the average family income for students receiving Pell funds is $13,532. Imagine how difficult it must be to support a family with this income—even the slightest reduction in funding could extinguish their hopes of completing college and pursuing their career dreams. Pell grants, by paying for tuition, books, transportation and other expenses, provide the opportunity for individuals to take the steps to get a college degree and earn a family-sustainable living.
The financial need for Pell grants at Montgomery County Community College reflects what is happening nationally as the number of Pell recipients grow at an unprecedented rate. In 2010-11 more than 4,300 Montgomery County Community College students received $14.8 million in Pell grants. Of these students, nearly 2,500 of them received the full funding. During this past year, 50 percent of our Pell recipients are 25 years or older.
The Pell program is an investment in one of country’s most valuable resources—an educated workforce. It is an investment that is critical to rebuilding our economy and ensuring a prosperous future in the ever-growing global workplace. The Pell program is the future to our students’ success.