Each year, college students from around the nation tap into a federal Pell Grant program that awards $34.5 billion of taxpayer money that doesn't ever have to be paid back.
The program serves an estimated 9 million students, but many take the money and never even graduate, a new report from the nonprofit College Board found.
"We have always known that the completion rates are lower than what we'd like them to be," said Sandy Baum, a financial aid expert quoted by NPR.
She said part of the problem was that many Pell Grant recipients aren't college hopefuls from low-income families, as the program was intended to target. But rather, more and more are coming from the work sector — they're adults returning to school to boost their careers, she said on NPR.
The recession has fueled these nontraditional students' return to school. More than half of Pell Grant recipients hail from this arena: They're above age 25, unemployed or underemployed, and hoping some college classes will fuel new job opportunities.
Only 3 percent of them receive bachelor's degrees, Ms. Baum said.
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