It’s Time to Act

Community college trustees can help ensure thatyear-round Pell is restored for all students.

During the last reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, Congress and President George W. Bush signed into law a provision that brought the Pell Grant program into the 21st century. By allowing students to receive a Pell Grant for more than two semesters in a year, the provision allowed many students to receive aid for the summer semester. In total, 1.2 million students — or 15 percent of all Pell Grant recipients — received year-round Pell Grant (YRP) awards in fiscal 2011.

However, the additional year-round Pell awards, along with the significant increase in the number of Pell Grant students and the increase in the Pell Grant maximum, drastically ballooned the overall cost of the program, which created significant funding shortfalls. Congressional leaders and the administration acted quickly to deal with the Pell Grant shortfall by eliminating year-round Pell, eliminating eligibility for ability to benefit (ATB) students, and reducing the maximum number of full-time semesters from 18 to 12. Congress passed these changes to Pell without even holding hearings to address the cost and the impact of the cuts.

While ACCT has been successful in restoring some eligibility for ability-to-benefit students in career pathway programs, higher education organizations continue to push for restoration of year-round Pell. One of the chief barriers has been the cost, but for the past several years the Pell Grant program has run a surplus, staving off shortfalls that would have further reduced student eligibility or awards. 

Pell program costs have shifted largely due to enrollment decreases across higher education and the corresponding impact on the total number of Pell Grant students. During its highest total participation in award year 2011-12, 9.4 million Pell Grant students received awards, of which 3.4 million were students at public two-year institutions. For award year 2014-15, there were 8.3 million students, of which 2.9 million were students at public two-year institutions. 

Due to the reduction in the number of Pell Grant students, Congressional leaders are now looking at a projected $7.8 billion Pell Grant surplus for FY2017. ACCT historically has supported efforts to maintain the surpluses in the Pell program in anticipation of future funding shortfalls. However, Congressional appropriators are now looking for additional resources to shore up funding gaps in other programs, and funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) remains a top priority for many lawmakers. There is growing concern that if the surplus funds are not spent for Pell Grant purposes, some of the surplus will be reallocated to NIH programs.

Given the funding situation, ACCT and other stakeholders are calling upon Congress and the administration to use the Pell Grant surplus to restore yearround Pell. ACCT recently sent out an action alert to its membership to call and write their members of Congress in support of year-round Pell. ACCT asks that all community college trustees and leaders support our advocacy effort on this important topic. ACCT’s website allows individuals to send emails to their respective members of Congress. Go to to urge your elected officials to maintain funding for the Pell Grant program.

ACCT also encourages community college trustees and leaders to download and use a recent toolkit developed by ACCT public policy staff. The toolkit provides valuable information on how to invite and maximize a Congressional member’s visit to your college. These Congressional visits can serve as a valuable advocacy tool and provide an opportunity for members of Congress to meet students receiving federal financial aid. Visit to download the toolkit.

ACCT will continue to advocate for this important issue with Congress and the administration as it finalizes the appropriations process. We encourage you to use ACCT’s online resources to communicate with your members of Congress and follow federal legislative updates through the Latest Action in Washington (LAW) email alerts and the Capitol Connection e-newsletter. To join, email

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