U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt stopped by Metropolitan Community College with a message for students: Don’t let anything get in the way of completing your education — and don’t assume you can’t afford to take summer classes.
Funding for year-round federal Pell Grants was restored by Congress in May 2017, but Blunt isn’t sure the word has gotten out to eligible students. Many Missouri colleges including MCC will offer Pell funding for summer courses for the first time this year.
About one in three Missouri college students receives Pell funds, Blunt said. At MCC, 45 percent of students — more than 8,000 — take advantage of Pell Grants.
Blunt appeared May 1 at a roundtable discussion at MCC-Penn Valley with four MCC students, a University of Missouri-Kansas City student, and officials from MCC, UMKC and Park University.
MCC Chancellor Kimberly Beatty praised the senator as a “huge supporter” of higher education in general and community colleges in particular. She thanked him for his support of a recent Pell Grant maximum award increase from $5,920 (for 2017-18) to $6,095 (for 2018-19), which came out of a Senate subcommittee Blunt chairs. Dr. Beatty also expressed thanks for increases to Perkins Act funding (for workforce programs) and Title III-A funding for Hispanic-serving and predominantly black institutions.
Blunt, a Republican first elected to the Senate in 2010, is a former history teacher and president of Southwest Baptist University. When he was a college student, he says, he went three years and three summers to complete his 124-hour bachelor’s degree. He was the first member of his family to graduate from college, and he paid his own way.
“Maintaining that pattern” — completing a college degree without interruptions — is “really important,” he says. He hopes that “better planning and better opportunities,” such as Pell-supported summer classes and more work-study jobs on campus, will reduce the need for students to take on significant college debt.
MCC-Penn Valley student Emanuel Burnette is about to graduate from MCC. He was a high school dropout who later earned his high school equivalency. He, too, is a first-generation college student, but paying out of pocket isn’t possible right now, he says.
He knows people are watching him make his way to MCC graduation and then on to UMKC. “I’m just leading by example,” he says.
Students often take summers off to make some money, but UMKC is expecting summer enrollment to increase this year thanks to the year-round Pell funding, says Interim Chancellor Barbara Bichelmeyer.
Pell Grants should result in about 20,000 Missouri students taking college courses this summer who wouldn’t otherwise be able to, Blunt says.
Year-round Pell Grants were available in 2009-10 and 2010-11 but then discontinued due to budget constraints.
The Pell Grant, originally known as the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant, was created by the Higher Education Act of 1965. They are awarded to students who demonstrate financial need, and because they’re not loans, they do not have to be repaid. A Pell Grant is generally considered the foundation of a student’s financial aid package.
More scenes from the event: