It's an unfortunate term: Pell Runner. It sounds like science fiction or bootlegging. However, we probably should add it to our vocabularies, as Pell Grants for needy students are sometimes used for fraudulent purposes. Basically it involves individuals who have no intention of earning credits, but pocket the grant money and move on to another school to do the same thing. Those "disappearing" students? Maybe that's the answer.
Strangely, community colleges are particularly vulnerable because their tuition is lower. From an article in the Hechinger Report, a respected source in higher education journalism:
The maximum Pell Grant is about $5,500. The government pays the money directly to the school. The school takes out tuition and fees. Then it gives anything left over to the student — usually a few weeks into the semester.
This means two-year colleges, especially in states with low tuition, may be prime targets. Joanne Jacobs writes a blog for "Community College Spotlight," also published by the Hechinger Report. Here's her take:
They don’t have to account for how they spend the money. A single mother might pay the babysitter so she can get to night classes; a recipient living with parents might buy a car, clothing or Christmas gifts.
While most Pell recipients try to pass their classes, those at low-cost colleges have an incentive to enroll, cash the refund check and then stop attending. Teachers say there’s no trouble parking on campus once the checks go out.
They’ll lose eligibility for aid after two or three semesters, but they can move on to another college and try again, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org. Colleges should track these “Pell runners” and turn them into the U.S. Education Department, he says.
Kantrowitz: If you see a student transferring from one college to another to another within a small geographic area, that may be a sign that they’re a Pell runner.
Some argue that the problem is exaggerated. However, since funding for student aid is always in peril, especially given the current federal budget situation, perpetrators need to be stopped in order for deserving students to receive adequate funds to go to college.
Here's the Department of Education's Pell Grant Page for more information.