Center for American Progress

Expand Existing Federal Policies to Help Working Adults Attain Postsecondary Credentials

Expand Existing Federal Policies to Help Working Adults Attain Postsecondary Credentials

Federal access policies such as the Pell grant, as well as policies that provide academic and support services, need to be expanded to help working adults with their education.

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More than 5 million low-income students received a Pell Grant in 2006-07; almost 60 percent of these students were independent undergraduates. The average total grant aid awarded to working adults, however, was $2,900 in 2003-04 compared with $5,200 for traditional-age students. This difference was in part due to working adults enrolling in college less than full-time. But after controlling for enrollment intensity, working adults from similar income levels as dependent students do not receive the same Pell Grant. According to the Institute
for Higher Education Policy, among working poor adults (40 percent of whom are between the ages of 25 and 34) those who enrolled in college faced more than $4,000 in unmet need after accounting for all forms of financial aid. To address these limitations, federal policies that determine Pell Grant eligibility need to be changed in two ways:

  • Provide more generous Pell Grants to ƒƒworking adults who enroll part-time.
  • Equalize Pell eligibility formulas so ƒƒlow-income working adults can qualify for the same amount of Pell Grant monies as traditional-age students.

Federal access policies that provide academic and social supports to help students transition to and succeed in college also need revisiting. The federal access policies TRIO and GEAR UP are the current mechanisms for states, K12 schools, and postsecondary institutions to provide supplemental services to help students become college-ready. These programs should be expanded so states can offer a package of services to working adults to include counseling (academic, financial, and career), tutoring, mentoring, assistance with college and financial aid applications, high-quality instruction, and financial incentives. 

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