Sen. Roy Blunt promotes year-round Pell Grants during MCC visit

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt says hello to MCC student Danielle Swinney before the start of a discussion on year-round Pell Grants at MCC-Penn Valley. (Photos by Clay Bussey/MCC)

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 moderated the roundtable discussion with Sen. Blunt.

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.

Emanuel Burnette

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.

Four MCC students who receive Pell Grants took part in the discussion, including MCC-Penn Valley student Lucas Alaback. Sen. Blunt asked him if he’s planning to take summer classes. Yes: six credits.

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:

After the Pell Grant roundtable, Blunt was interviewed by local TV reporters.
MCC-Penn Valley President Dr. Tyjaun Lee (from left), MCC students Danielle Swinney and Melanie Herder, Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Financial Services Dena Norris, MCC student Lucas Alaback
Before the Pell Grant event, Sen. Roy Blunt spoke to some Alta Vista Charter School students visiting MCC-Penn Valley.
Sen. Blunt with MCC Chancellor Kimberly Beatty and UMKC Interim Chancellor Barbara Bichelmeyer
Dr. Beatty thanked Sen. Blunt for his support of community colleges and increases to the Pell Grant and other programs.
Sen. Blunt with Dr. Beatty
The event was held in MCC-Penn Valley’s Wilson Enrollment Center.
UMKC student Drew Rogers (from left), MCC students Melanie Herder and Danielle Swinney, Sen. Blunt, MCC students Lucas Alaback and Emanuel Burnette
Dr. Carlos Penaloza, MCC vice chancellor of instruction and chief academic officer
Dr. Kathrine Swanson (center), MCC vice chancellor for student success and engagement
MCC student Danielle Swinney tells Sen. Blunt how helpful Pell Grants have been for her. Dr. Michael Banks, vice chancellor for college and community relations, is at left.