Pell Grants for Dual Enrollment: A Promising Model

By Guest Author,  Acting Assistant Secretary Johan E. Uvin.

A college degree or credential is the key to individual and national prosperity. By 2020, economists predict that nearly two thirds of all jobs will require some level of education and training beyond high school. However, less than 60 percent of Americans 25 years and older currently have this level of preparation.

Last week, I had the fortune of engaging with hundreds of adult education practitioners, researchers, and advocates at National College Transition Network (NCTN) conference in Providence, RI. These thought leaders convened to share and identify effective strategies for helping adult learners progress to and through postsecondary education and training to good jobs.

Dual enrollment programs, in which students enroll in postsecondary coursework while working toward a secondary school diploma, was one of the many promising approaches discussed at NCTN. Research has shown that participation in dual enrollment programs can lead to improved academic outcomes for students such as greater secondary school completion, higher GPA, and increased likeliness of enrolling in and completing a postsecondary degree.

Recognizing the promise of dual enrollment, last year Congress amended the Higher Education Act to allow students who do not have a high school diploma or its equivalent to be eligible for Title IV financial aid through a program called Ability to Benefit (ATB). In order to receive Title IV financial aid through ATB, students must be enrolled in an eligible career pathway program.

In an effort to expand access to higher education, on November 3rd the Department of Education published a Federal Register notice inviting postsecondary institutions, in partnership with public secondary schools or local education agencies, to apply to participate in the dual enrollment experiment that will allow students without a secondary school diploma or its recognized equivalent to receive Federal Pell Grants for integrated education programs. This experiment will expand access to college coursework for secondary school students from low-income backgrounds, a group that studies have identified as benefiting immensely from dual enrollment programs. The Department will invest up to $20 million in the 2016-17 award year, benefiting up to 10,000 students from low-income backgrounds across the country.

In addition to helping low-income students currently enrolled in a traditional public secondary school, this experimental program can provide much needed educational and financial support to low-skilled adults. In the U.S., over 30 million adults do not have a high school diploma and 20% of U.S. adults with a high school diploma have low literacy skills. Many of these low skilled adults are actively seeking educational programs and are working to increase skills, educational attainment, and economic outcomes, and say they want to do more. Dual enrollment programs could enable these adults, particularly those from low-income backgrounds, to achieve their goals.

To be considered for participation in the Dual Enrollment experimental site, interested postsecondary institutions must submit a letter of interest to the Department of Education, following the procedures listed in the Federal Register notice.

Photo of Johan Uvin

Johan E. Uvin
Acting Assistant Secretary for the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE)