A distance learning group is raising an alarm about a change to Pell Grants in a Senate appropriations bill for fiscal year 2013 that, if signed into law, could cut the need-based grants for students taking online classes. A provision in the bill, which would increase the overall Pell Grant next year, would stop allowing students taking online classes to claim room and board expenses, as well as "miscellaneous personal expenses," as part of their cost of living when applying for Pell Grants.
Currently, Pell Grants take all forms of expenses into account for all students, whether they're commuters, residential students or enrolled in online or distance learning programs. Students would still be able to use those expenses when applying for student loans or other forms of financial aid. "It is hard to understand why the cost for a student’s living expenses are not allowable if the student takes online courses, but would be allowable if that same student were to commute to campus to take the same courses in a classroom," wrote Russ Poulin, deputy director for research and analysis with the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.