Strengthen Pell
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Restore the Purchasing Power of the Pell Grant: #DoublePell

The Pell Grant has served as the cornerstone of financial aid for low-income students pursuing higher education since its creation in 1972. This need-based grant provides crucial support for around 7 million students each year, or about one-third of undergraduates.

Unfortunately, the purchasing power of the Pell Grant has continuously declined since the mid-1970s. The last time Congress made a substantial investment in the Pell Grant program was the 2009-10 stimulus package. At its peak in 1975-76, the maximum Pell award covered more than three-fourths of the average cost of attendance – tuition, fees, and living expenses – for a four-year public university.

Today, it covers less than 30%.

While Congress' efforts during the last two appropriations cycles have temporarily and partially curtailed the decreasing strength of the Pell Grant, lawmakers must make bolder investments in this program to empower traditionally underserved students.

What Congress Should Do to #DoublePell and Maintain its Promise:

  • Returning the purchasing power of the Pell Grant to half the cost of attendance. NCAN’s long-term investment proposal calls for a return to a Pell Grant that covers 50% of the cost of attendance for a public four-year university. Given our extraordinary times, Congress should meet this goal by immediately doubling the maximum Pell award.
  • Indexing the Pell Grant to the rate of inflation. Once the maximum Pell Grant covers 50% of the cost of a four-year public education, Congress should reinstate the provision that indexed the program to the rate of inflation. Doing so would guarantee a baseline annual increase and, in turn, sustain Pell’s purchasing power.
  • Keeping Pell dollars in the Pell program. Dollars accumulated in the Pell Grant reserve (from unobligated funds in years when Congress appropriated more than students needed) were intended for students from low-income backgrounds and should be used to help those students afford a higher education. Removing the dollars from this rainy day fund, which can support the Pell Grant program in years of high demand, for use other than college affordability for low-income students is tantamount to cutting the Pell Grant program.

Other proposals, under the guise of supporting students or "right-sizing the program," will actually decrease the students who are able to benefit.

What Congress Should Not Do:

  • Make changes to Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) requirements. Changing the terms of SAP to tighten the merit-based requirements for grant renewal – to a higher grade point average, for example – would force students who receive Pell Grants to meet a loftier bar than their higher-income peers to stay enrolled. SAP requirements for Pell Grant renewal should not be any higher than those requirements that full-pay students face to stay enrolled in good standing at their institution. Click here to learn more about the impact of GPA on Pell Grant recipient retention.
  • Increase the number of credits required to be considered a full-time student. Currently, two-thirds of students attend institutions that charge tuition by the credit hour, even for students who take credits within the standard “full-time” range of 12 to 17 credit hours. At community colleges specifically, 90% charge per-credit-hour tuition for students at all course load levels. Increasing the number of credits required to be considered full-time to receive federal financial aid would cost students money. Moving from 12 to 15 credit hours, for example, would increase tuition bills by 25% for students enrolled at the current 12-credit threshold. This proposal would be particularly harmful if Congress does not increase the overall amount of aid available.
  • Decrease the financial aid eligibility levels. The vast majority of Pell Grant recipients come from families earning $40,000 a year or less. Families must earn less than $23,000 a year to be guaranteed an Expected Family Contribution of $0 – the federal government’s way of saying they shouldn’t have to contribute to the cost of higher education. The fact that these families are all well among the low- to moderate-earners in our country is a result of the careful targeting of the Pell Grant program. Decreasing financial eligibility below current levels will result in fewer low- and moderate-income students being able to afford college.

All students, regardless of income, age, race, or ethnicity deserve an equal opportunity for a college education. Congress should revitalize the Pell Grant program to make present-day support proportional with original legislative intent so that any American who desires to further his or her education beyond high school is able to do so.