Federal Student Aid: Recent Changes to Eligibility Requirements and Additional Efforts to Promote Awarness Could Increase Academic Competitiveness and SMART Grant Participation
The Academic Competitiveness (AC) and National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grants were established by the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. The grants provide merit-based financial aid to certain low-income college students eligible for Federal Pell Grants and are administered by the Department of Education (Education). In the first year of implementation, participation was lower than expected. GAO was asked to determine (1) factors affecting AC and SMART Grant student participation; (2) challenges colleges face in administering the grant programs; and (3) the extent to which Education has assisted states and colleges with implementation. To address these objectives, GAO analyzed data on AC, SMART, and Pell Grants, and interviewed officials from Education and 12 state education agencies, administrators from 42 selected colleges, and several national associations.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Education||To increase student participation in the AC and SMART Grant programs while minimizing the administrative challenges faced by colleges, the Secretary of Education should take appropriate and timely steps, in light of the programs' scheduled sunset in the 2010-2011 academic year, to further assist states and colleges in implementing the grant programs by developing a strategy to increase awareness of the AC and SMART Grant programs among states and high schools. This strategy could include developing promotional materials about the grant programs and disseminating information about actions states are taking to promote awareness of the grant programs.||
The Department of Education's Federal Student Aid office concurred with this recommendation. The Department has increased its efforts to promote awareness and facilitate sharing of effective practices related to the AC and SMART Grant program through conference, forums, websites, and publications. These efforts are aimed at a wide audience including high school/college students and parents, high school counselors, postsecondary schools, and states.
|Department of Education||To increase student participation in the AC and SMART Grant programs while minimizing the administrative challenges faced by colleges, the Secretary of Education should take appropriate and timely steps, in light of the programs' scheduled sunset in the 2010-2011 academic year, to further assist states and colleges in implementing the grant programs by using existing forums, such as annual financial aid conferences, to provide states and colleges with formal opportunities to share and learn about effective practices that can help mitigate some of the challenges of verifying the AC and SMART Grant requirements, especially the completion of a rigorous high school program.||
The Department of Education's Federal Student Aid office concurred with this recommendation. The Department sponsored its annual Federal Student Aid Conference in December 2009 and devoted a segment to effective practices in overcoming barriers that prevent institutions from maximizing student participation in the grant programs.