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Senator Blunt Pushes for Changes to Pell Grant

Michele Skalicky

U.S. Senator Roy Blunt is meeting with college administrators to talk about his efforts to restore year-round Pell Grants.  Today he stopped in Springfield at OTC to talk with the community college’s chancellor, Hal Higdon, Missouri State University's president, Clif Smart, and other local college administrators.

Blunt chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, which recently approved a bipartisan funding bill that would, in part, change the Pell Grant to year-round funding.

He said this would be especially beneficial for non-traditional students for whom staying in school really matters.

"Life gets in the way enough times anyway that--all of you who work with students have seen that, 'well, I can't afford to go this summer because I can't afford to pay the tuition, but I'll be back next fall,'" he said.

But he said sometimes that doesn’t happen, and a student may never get back.

MSU President Smart said first generation college students would also benefit from the change since they already face obstacles.

"We know from the data that if you take a semester off you are incredibly less likely to get done, and sometimes just going home for the summer it's harder to come back," he said.

He said this will be “a game changer” for lots of students.  According to Smart, this is a federal program that works.

"And to have it available through the summer it will work even better and so I think there's anonymity in this room that we're excited about this proposal," he said.

Vickie Mattocks, MSU's financial aid director, said the university serves about 6,000 students who receive Pell Grants.  She said many would return for summer if possible, but many use up their Pell Grant funds during the academic year.

MSU student Charles Smythe was at OTC to talk to Senator Blunt today.  He's on the GI Bill, which he said affords veterans 36 months of schooling.  The Pell Grant expansion, he said, would allow vets to maximize GI benefits.

"That way they're not finishing 36 months of schooling and still having to take on debt to finish their degree," he said.

Expanding the Pell Grant would also be beneficial for the local area from an economic standpoint, according to OTC President Higdon.  He said the U.S. has about two million skilled jobs open, and the proposed Senate bill would allow those jobs to be filled more quickly.

"What we want to do is get those nurses, those RNs, those welders in and out quickly.  That slowed down dramatically when we lost summer Pell," he said.

The Pell Grant was year-round for several years but was changed to two semesters of funding in 2009.