Do Pell Grants Discourage Marriage?

Republican congressman’s suggestion during hearing stuns aid experts. Many also object to his claim that students spend their federal aid on “goodies and electronics.”

March 22, 2017
 
Representative Glenn Grothman

Toward the end of a nearly three-hour hearing on improving the federal student aid system Wednesday, Representative Glenn Grothman identified an issue with Pell Grants that doesn't get much attention. "Anecdotal evidence" in his district, the Wisconsin Republican said, indicated people are choosing not to marry so they can have incomes low enough to qualify for the need-based aid program.

Asked to respond by Grothman, the panel of witnesses testifying before the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development was for several seconds stunned into silence.

Grothman also argued that first-year students should be barred from receiving Pell Grants to make sure the federal government is not "wasting money" on those who don't graduate. And he suggested that low-income recipients are spending the grant aid on "goodies and electronics." Those students could pay for college by taking out loans, he said.

Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said taking Pell from first-year students gets the issue "upside down" when most scholarly and policy discussions have begun to focus on front-loading grants. As for Pell's impact on marriage, he said there is anecdotal evidence for "everything under the sun."

"I'm not in a position to deny he ran into two people who told him that, but I'm not sure what to do with that information," Nassirian said.

Grothman's comments did not receive a favorable response from hearing observers online.

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