Higher education stakeholders urge Congress to double maximum Pell grant


In the past, Federal Pell Grants made the difference between whether or not a student could afford to go to graduate school.

But now, due to increasing affordability issues – such as food and housing insecurity – federal financial assistance is “no longer sufficient,” according to Dr. John Downey, president of Blue Ridge. Community College (BRCC).

Lodriguez Murray

Although the Pell Grant helps nearly seven million low- and middle-income students, the current top rate covers less than a third of the average cost of attending a four-year public institution, according to the United Negro College Fund. (UNCF).

Since 75% of historically black college and university (HBCU) students are Pell-eligible, UNCF has been actively involved in efforts to increase the Pell grant.

In 2019, Dr. Michael L. Lomax, President and CEO of UNCF, called on Congress to double the maximum Pell Grant during the HBCU State Address.

“Doubling the Pell grant would go a long way in restoring the purchasing power of the program it had in the mid-1960s,” said Lodriguez Murray, senior vice president of public policy and government affairs at UNCF. “It targets funding on students who need it most. “

Other higher education advocacy groups and institutions have followed suit.

In March 2020, approximately 1,200 colleges, universities and organizations formed a coalition and urged Congress to act.

The coalition letter said “this long overdue investment will stimulate economic recovery, help address racial and economic inequalities in college completion rates, and increase overall educational attainment.”

Murray said the support network across the country “can do nothing but help.” Nonetheless, higher education is currently facing a “battle” between doubling the Pell grant and free tuition.

Dr Robert Kelchen, associate professor of higher education at Seton Hall University, argued that the advantage of the Pell scholarship is that it benefits all sectors of higher education. Tuition-free colleges, on the other hand, may only impact community colleges or four-year public institutions.

“This means that private colleges are pushing hard against free public colleges,” said Kelchen, who is expected to join faculty at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville next month. “Doubling the Pell Grant is something that everyone can support at least to some extent. This avoids some of the difficult political battles. “

Doubling the Pell Grant was one of the tenets of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’s campaign platform.

Months into his presidency, Biden proposed a $ 400 increase in the maximum Pell grant in his fiscal year 2022 budget. An additional $ 1,475 was requested in the American Families Act, which equates to a total increase in the Pell grant of $ 1,875.

Dr Linda M. LeMura

Dr. Miguel A. Cardona, US Secretary of Education, described the move as “the first step in a more comprehensive proposal to double the grant.”

“We heard you and we thank you [for the proposed increase], but we need to do more and better on behalf of our students, ”said Dr. Linda M. LeMura, President of Collège Le Moyne.

Her desire for change stems from a first-hand experience as a student with the Pell Scholarship. Now, as university president, LeMura is meeting with local delegates and congressional representatives to explain the value of the Pell Grant, which has been shown to improve access, retention and graduation rates.

“Not only does this alleviate poverty, but it also encourages students to enter the workforce as early as possible,” she said. “They become contributors, taxpayers, wonderful citizens, engaged and compassionate citizens who benefit from higher education. We are networking across the country to try to achieve this.

Beyond the idea of ​​doubling the Pell Grant, Downey encourages lawmakers to consider the Pell Workforce in order to address the current shortage of skilled workers.

BRCC seeks to close the skills gap in Virginia through its FastForward Short-Term Workforce Certification Program. Two-thirds of the cost of the program is funded by the state, and students are responsible for the remaining balance. Allowing the Pell Grant to be used for workforce programs would ease financial barriers, according to Downey.

“We have had stories of people who have obtained a welding certificate or a truck driving certificate and it has absolutely changed their lives thanks to the stability of having benefits and a good income,” he said. declared. “Then the hope would be that they would move from those programs to associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, which then, over time, allows them to continue to raise their standard of living. “

Sarah Wood can be contacted at [email protected]

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