When colleges shutter their campuses, who’s harmed the most? Students are, especially low-income students. They are the ones with the least protection. That’s why it was so refreshing to see Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) stand up for them by introducing the “Pell Restoration Act of 2015,” which will allow Pell Grant recipients the ability to continue their education at another institution.

This legislation corrects an important oversight in the Higher Education Act. Currently, student loans are eligible for discharge if a school closes or commits fraud before a student can finish. But there is no similar provision for Pell Grants. Under current law, Pell students who want to continue their education at another institution will face exhausted or restricted Pell Grant aid, which hardly seems fair.

The Pell Restoration Act changes that provision. It is especially critical in light of behemoth postsecondary private, for-profit institutions, like Corinthian Colleges that left thousands of students in a horrible predicament — robbed of a degree, and also robbed of their Pell dollars.

Corinthian Colleges Inc. filed for bankruptcy in May, after numerous federal and state investigators charged that the for-profit company violated marketing laws and lied about job placement rates. Data from our College Results Online website show more than half the students at Corinthian were underrepresented minorities and nearly 80 percent were Pell Grant recipients. When the company closed, nearly 12,000 Pell recipients were unable to continue their education.

Unfortunately, Corinthian will not be “the last domino to fall,” which is why protecting the educational aspirations of these low-income students is so important. By looking at institutions on heightened cash monitoring by the U.S. Department of Education, as well as institutions under investigation by other authorities, we found that these institutions disproportionately enroll low-income students and students of color. And other analysts have found high default rates and poor labor market prospects for these students.


Clearly, low-income and underrepresented students want to climb the economic ladder and obtain a postsecondary education. However, these students are not enrolling in institutions of higher education that serve them well. At the same time, schools that have a track record of high graduation rates have very low Pell enrollments.

It is time for high-performing institutions to step up and serve these students. Pell is a partnership between students and institutions — funded by the taxpayer. Institutions that serve Pell students well should be celebrated; those that do not should be held responsible.

Photo credit: U.S. House Committee on Education & the Workforce