Back when Congress finally agreed on how much the 2012-13 Pell Grant would be, they had to cut some corners in other areas in order to maintain the amount. One of the corners that was cut was the Lifetime Limit of Pell a student could receive.
The Lifetime Limit is exactly what it sounds like: the total amount of Pell Grant a person could receive in their lifetime. This limit isn't based on a dollar amount, but instead a percentage amount. Before July 1, the lifetime percentage was 900% (or 18 semesters/24 quarters). During the short time when more than 100% could be received (called a 'year-round pell'), that extra is figured into the lifetime eligibility also.
The unusual thing about the lifetime eligibility is that since it's based on percentage, if you could only receive a $500 pell for the year, and the maximum that year was $4700, and if all $500 came in, then you were at 100%. This is the confusing part of this rule, but it tries to ensure that even though the amounts may not be the same for every student, the number of times you can receive pell is the same. If you applied for pell and weren't eligible, then your pell percentage would be 0% for that year. Keep in mind, they only count pell that actually was disbursed. Also keep in mind that unless 100% of your yearly pell came in for a year, then it's somewhat rare that your pell will be an even percentage; some who have withdrawn, were in shorter payment periods could, or were attending a clock hour program could have strange amounts like 37.061% of 67.776%.
So now that we're passed the July 1 change of rules, the Lifetime Limit for pells has been reduced to 600% (or 12 semesters/18 quarters). The rule is also effective immediately and no one is grandfathered in. This is difficult to keep track of because NSLDS doesn't always calculate the total percentages. However, it's actually worse than that: NSLDS doesn't keep track of the entire Pell Grant history! It only goes back so far. So this means that there are students were are being denied Pell Grants or having Pell Grants reduced because of hitting this threshhold but the schools aren't knowing how close the students actually are.
For the FA Administrators, to get a complete understanding of how much Pell Grant a student has had in their lifetime, you have to look on COD for the most accurate information.
For the students, please let your FA people know if you went to school longer than what shows on NSLDS. This is help to avoid the FA office being left in the dark and help to give you the most accurate information.
NSLDS is still a fabulous resource and a great tool, but when it comes to Pell Grants, it's not as effective as it is for loans.