SoCal colleges scramble to make new financial aid available for summer students

Linda Briney/Courtesy of Fullerton College

After having been cut in cost-saving measures five years ago, the U.S. Department of Education announced last week that it would restore the federal financial aid Pell grant program for students taking summer classes. 

But the move, which goes into effect on July 1, has left some Southern California college administrators scrambling to figure out whether students whose summer sessions begin before that date would be able to receive the new funds. 

“It’s a little unfortunate that the guidance came down as late as it did,” said Rebecca Sanchez, director of Financial Aid and Scholarships at U.C. Irvine, whose summer session begins on Monday. 

The first details from federal officials, she said, led her to believe that students on her campus beginning summer session this week would not be able to receive the new Pell grants, which could be as much as $2,500 and can be used to pay for living expenses such as food and rent.

She estimates that 141 Pell eligible students enrolled in summer classes on her campus will receive the new funds and that’ll help these students graduate faster.

“Typically, a lot of our neediest students can’t afford to go to summer because that Pell grant is such an important part of paying for their education,” Sanchez said.

The Pell grant increase for students taking summer school comes at a time when California college officials are carrying out policies to help struggling students stay in college and earn their degrees faster. Administrators said the increase to aid will lead to increases in summer school enrollment next year.

But many students didn’t know about the new Pell summer grants.

“We weren’t able to really fully market this,” said U.C. Riverside Executive Vice Chancellor Cindy Larive. “We’re going to be able to make awards to almost 2200 recipients for Pell grants this summer. I think we could have done more than that.”

The Trump administration restored federal summer Pell grants five years after they were eliminated as a cost-cutting measure by the Obama administration.

"Expanding access to the Pell program, so that students who need additional resources can graduate more quickly and with less debt, is the right thing to do," U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a written statement.

A spokesman for the California Community College system said their campuses are helping summer students tap into the new Pell funds. The California State University said it didn’t know how many of its campuses would.

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