This summer marked the first time in eight years that summer Pell Grants were available. A need-based award to low-income, first-time undergraduates, the federal Pell Grant promotes access to postsecondary education. A summer component means that eligible students can use their Pell Grants year-round and receive up to one and a half awards in one academic year. For example, a student with the maximum school-year award of $6,095 can now receive a summertime award of $3,047—the total Pell Grant for the year would be $9,412. Unlike a student loan, Pell Grants do not need to be repaid. Previous PPIC work suggests that the availability of summer Pell Grants not only expands summer course enrollment but may also increase retention rates and accelerate time to degree.
Who is likely to benefit from summer Pell Grants? Of all California students who received Pell Grants in 2016–17, more than 80% attended a public institution. Further, the California Community Colleges (CCC) enrolled the most Pell recipients of all California’s public institutions: about 60%. The California State University (CSU) and University of California (UC) systems enrolled 29% and 11% of recipients, respectively.
Many students at CCC who receive a Pell Grant also receive state aid, most commonly in the form of a California College Promise Grant tuition waiver. This year, the CCC tuition waiver covers summer enrollment fees as well. Applying the summer Pell Grant on top of the tuition waiver at CCC may enable students to cover significant non-tuition costs like housing, which is often a larger expense than tuition itself. The return of the summer Pell Grant makes year-round college attendance more affordable and enables students to make timely progress to their education goals.