Senators Portman and Warner Lead Bipartisan Letter to Secretary Devos Supporting Access to Dual Enrollment For Low And Middle Income Students

April 26, 2017 | Press Releases

16 Republican and Democratic Senators Encourage U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to Preserve Pell Grant Access for Eligible Dual Enrollment Students 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led a bipartisan group of Senators today in calling on Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to continue the dual enrollment Pell experiment that the Department began conducting last year. Under the Department’s experiment, an estimated 10,000 eligible high school students taking college-credit courses will have access for the first time to federal Pell Grants.

“The cost of college tuition and fees continues to rise. Early college high schools can play a critical role to help students get a head start on college,” said. Sen. Portman. “Kids from low-income households can flourish in these schools because of the wrap-around services and the focus on being prepared for college. I strongly support expanding access to early college programs and urge Secretary DeVos to continue investing in the pilot to use Pell grants to support these schools across the country.”

“Students who get a head start on college tend to perform much better than their peers, but it’s a simple fact that lower-income students face unique financial challenges in jumpstarting their college educations,” said Sen. Warner. “Central Virginia and Germanna Community Colleges are leading the way in promoting our understanding of how broader access to the Pell Grant program will help push eligible dual enrollment students one step closer to college completion and success.”

In addition to Senators Portman and Warner, the letter was also signed by U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Margaret Wood Hassan (D-NH), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Cory A. Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), and Michael F. Bennet (D-CO).

Portman, along with Warner, has also championed legislation that would permanently expand Pell Grant eligibility to early college high school students.

A copy of the Senators’ letter is available here. The full text also appears below.

April 26, 2017

The Honorable Betsy DeVos


U.S. Department of Education

400 Maryland Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20202-1510

Dear Secretary DeVos:

We write to you today regarding our interest in and commitment to the U.S. Department of Education’s ongoing institution-based experiment to provide access to Pell Grants for students participating in dual enrollment programs. In addition, we write to request that the Department continue this experiment and determine an appropriate mechanism for evaluating this important project.

Under the Department’s dual enrollment experimental site, 43 diverse programs run by approved institutions of higher education in 23 states have been selected to allow up to 10,000 low-income high school students to access their Pell Grants. Access to federal financial aid under the experiment is designed to offset the costs of tuition, fees, and books for dual enrollment programs that provide students with the opportunity to earn a minimum of twelve college credits on a pathway towards a degree or credential, as well as the support services necessary to ensure their success. Outside the experiment, secondary students who would otherwise meet the eligibility requirements for a Pell Grant find cost to be a barrier to taking early college or dual enrollment courses. We request that the Department assess whether the participating institutions are expected to meet the Department's goal of 10,000 participating students and consider initiating another round of applications for additional institutions to join the experiment starting in the 2017-18 school year.

Dual enrollment and early college high schools are effective tools for improving college access, affordability, and completion, particularly for low-income and middle class students. Their strong results in terms of college enrollment and completion have been validated by numerous rigorous research studies. This experiment is both important and timely because it provides an opportunity to assess the return on investment of providing Pell Grants to younger students enrolled in college-level courses. There are numerous questions that research on this experiment can provide to inform legislative efforts to reduce college costs and improve outcomes.

It is important that the Department move swiftly to establish an evaluation mechanism for the experiment. As we understand it, there is currently no formal evaluation plan in place, nor has the Department agreed to share data with external evaluators. The participating institutions stand ready to furnish the data for an evaluation, as required by their participation agreements. We request that the Department move forward with setting up a rigorous evaluation process so we may learn valuable lessons about the experiment’s impact on institutions, financial aid systems, and student participation and success.

We appreciate your consideration of this request.