The Hechinger Report is a national nonprofit newsroom that reports on one topic: education. Sign up for our weekly newsletters to get stories like this delivered directly to your inbox.

When financial aid checks arrive, students vanish, writes Julie White, a community college instructor, on The 2-Year Track. The college gets the aid money, deducts tuition and sends students the rest in a “refund” check to cover living expenses.

Of the 27 students who originally enrolled in my course, I have 16 in class today. As I hand back the first test of the semester, I remark that maybe a lot of people have spring fever on this sunny day. One of my students suggests a different reason for the high number of absences, saying, “Well, refund checks were sent this week. By next week, there won’t be any problem finding parking on campus.”

Joe May

Vanishing students may have problems with child care, medical issues or work demands, she writes. But there is an upswing in disappearances when the checks arrive.

Louisiana’s technical colleges, which focus on job training, cost only $450 a semester for full-time students. Pell Grant recipients collect about $2,500 for living expenses, 79 percent of the grant.  “We see a pattern of people getting Pell checks and immediately dropping all their classes or they stop going to class,” says Joe May, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System. “They’re enrolling not to get an education but to get a check.”

After two semesters of failed or dropped classes, aid recipients lose eligibility for more grants. They have to enroll on their own dime and raise their grade point average to a 2.0 (C) to qualify. Most don’t try.

Vanishing students are less common at Louisiana’s community colleges, which charge more for tuition and return only 38 percent of the Pell Grant to enrollees. May hopes to discourage aid abuse by raising technical-college tuition to 55 percent of the Pell Grant.

The Hechinger Report provides in-depth, fact-based, unbiased reporting on education that is free to all readers. But that doesn't mean it's free to produce. Our work keeps educators and the public informed about pressing issues at schools and on campuses throughout the country. We tell the whole story, even when the details are inconvenient. Help us keep doing that.

Join us today.

Joanne Jacobs, formerly of the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News, is a freelance journalist who blogs at joannejacobs.com.

Letters to the Editor

At The Hechinger Report, we publish thoughtful letters from readers that contribute to the ongoing discussion about the education topics we cover. Please read our guidelines for more information.

By submitting your name, you grant us permission to publish it with your letter. We will never publish your email. You must fill out all fields to submit a letter.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *