The San Diego face of the $787 billion federal stimulus package passed early this year is that of a college student.

So far, Pell Grants have accounted for more than two-thirds of the nearly 700 grants, loans and contracts that have flowed into San Diego County as part of the massive federal effort to boost the economy, according to Pro Publica’s stimulus tracker database.

This puzzled Eric Kaufman, a reader, who answered my call for readers examine the database.

He wrote in an e-mail:

I guess it’s stimulus money, but paying for beauty school isn’t really “repairing America’s roads, bridges, and power grid…

University of San Diego economist Alan Gin is wondering the same thing. “I was surprised by all the Pell Grant funding,” Gin said. “That does not seem immediately stimulative.”

All told, of the more than $310 million in stimulus money that has landed in San Diego since late February, just more than $65 million (or about $1 out of every $5) has come in the form of Pell Grants, according to the database.

The grants, which have been a cornerstone of federal student financial aide since the 1960s, are being doled out in increasing numbers across the county’s educational landscape, from the San Diego State University to the Bay Vista Beauty Academy.

Gin and others say that over the long term, an increase in Pell Grants will help the overall economy. A worker who furthers her education is more likely to earn more, spend more and innovate more than one who doesn’t.

But in the short term most Pell Grant recipients are just going to classes and ratcheting back on their spending because they don’t have jobs. Even the institutions benefiting from the grants are skeptical.

“I wouldn’t say we are benefiting that much,” said Becky Dominguez, a financial aid officer for Bay Vista Beauty Academy. Dominquez said the school has seen an uptick in enrollment, but said that happens whenever the economy sours, regardless of whether there is a stimulus package.


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