Time to Reinvest in Pell

June 3, 2016

By Carrie Warick, Director of Partnerships and Policy


This week’s conversation about the projected Pell Grant program surplus gives Congress the opportunity to restore the impact of the Pell Grant program that was lost during the Great Recession.


The Pell Grant program is the cornerstone of financial aid in the United States, and it is by far the most important piece of funding to support college access for low-income students. The members of the National College Access Network work with low-income students, students of color and students who are first in their family to go to college. The Pell Grant is integral to providing our students with the financial foundation they need to attend college. This foundation has slowly eroded over time, particularly during the economic downtown, and the program's current projected surplus of $7.8 billion marks a prime opportunity to restore the impact of the program.

The Pell Grant program costs approximately $36 billion on an annual basis, so this level of surplus is not an insignificant amount of funding. NCAN encourages the members of Congress to use this funding to not only further the access impact of the program, but to also encourage students to complete their degrees. To accomplish these dual goals, the following elements could be added to the current Pell Grant program:

  1. Restore the year-round Pell Grant program to allow students to access three semesters worth of Pell Grant funding in a calendar year, allowing them to save money by graduating faster.
  2. Determine the annual Pell Grant maximum award based on the rate of inflation so the award amount does not continue to recede in purchasing power.
  3. Return the income level at which students automatically receive a full Pell Grant award to $30,000 from the current $24,000.
  4. Increase the maximum award amount to help decrease the amount of loans students must take out to pay for college.

Individually, each of these solutions would better serve low-income students in their quest to access and complete higher education. Taken together, these changes to the Pell Grant program would increase access to higher education as well as help ensure that more low-income students actually complete their degree.

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