WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) today applauded the inclusion of the College of Southern Maryland and Hagerstown Community College in a U.S. Department of Education (DOE) initiative that will allow high school students enrolled in courses at these colleges to be eligible for federal Pell Grants. Senator Mikulski has fought to increase access to federal Pell Grants to help make college more affordable for students and families.

“Middle class families need a raise and more money in the family checkbook. That means a fair shot at affordable higher education to help them climb the rungs of America’s opportunity ladder,” Senator Mikulski said. “Expanding access to Pell Grants for students working to get ahead is a smart investment in our next generation. Higher education should be part of the American Dream, not a financial nightmare. I will continue to fight so Maryland families have access to that dream with a fair shot at higher education and a government on their side.”

For the first time, high school students will have the opportunity to access Federal Pell Grants to take college courses through dual enrollment. Dual enrollment, in which students enroll in postsecondary coursework while also enrolled in high school, is an innovative approach to improving academic outcomes for students from low-income backgrounds.

Through this new program, the DOE will invest up to $20 million in the 2016-17 award year, benefiting up to 10,000 students from low-income backgrounds across the country.

During the 2010-2011 school year, the last academic year that has compiled statistics available, more than 1.4 million high school students took courses offered by a college or university for credit through dual enrollment. A growing body of research suggests that participation in dual enrollment can lead to improved academic outcomes, especially for students from low-income backgrounds and first-generation college students.

As the cost of higher education continues to rise at unprecedented rates and U.S. student loan debt balloons to roughly $1 trillion – a sum larger than Americans’ total collective credit card debt – Senator Mikulski is committed to finding new ways to make college a more attainable prospect for a greater number of Maryland students. Senator Mikulski has embarked on a Maryland College Affordability Tour, meeting with students, administrators and teachers to discuss the many challenges students and families face in paying for higher education, along with the impact on jobs and communities.

In her roles on the HELP and Appropriations Committees, Senator Mikulski has been an advocate for access to quality higher education through programs like the federal Pell Grant program, which provides need-based grants to lower-income undergraduate students to obtain access to higher education. As Vice Chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Mikulski worked to ensure that the fiscal year (FY) 2016 government spending bill supported a maximum Pell Grant award of $5,915. Pell Grants help nearly 8.8 million college students across the country, including more than 112,000 Maryland students access higher education and can be used to pay for tuition, fees, books and living expenses.