New Mini-Documentary Focuses On Pell Grant History, Future

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff

The Pell Grant Program took center stage on Monday during an event, hosted by the Lumina Foundation, unveiling a short film on the program and how it has served as a building block for student-focused financial aid in the U.S.

The film is the third in the Foundation’s “Looking Back to Move Forward: A History of Federal Student Aid” mini-documentary series, which is produced in partnership with the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP). The first two films of the series on the evolution of federal student aid and the origins of campus-based programs premiered last fall. Each film is about 15 minutes in length and focuses on the origins and political context of some of the Title IV financial aid programs, with the goal of jump starting a conversation about how to address the future of federal student aid. 

Former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who now serves as president of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, said Monday that during her tenure as Secretary, the administration and her staff “thought and still think … that Pell is the most efficient and effective was to give financial aid” to the neediest students. However, the “complicated and byzantine” financial aid delivery system coupled with the rising cost of higher education has led to a lack of clarity around the higher education goals of the country, she said.

“I think it’s a necessity [to have clear goals] and I think we failed to do it for a very long time,” Spellings said, adding, “Now more than ever we need articulated goals and then we can build a financing system around it.”

Also included in Monday’s event was a panel discussion between David Evans, former staff director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Education, Arts, and Humanities, and Cheryl Oldham, vice president of education and workforce at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. 

Evans said that to him, a key aspect about the Pell Grant Program was the shift it brought in delivering financial aid directly to students, rather than institutions. This shift, he said, increased the equity and diversity in higher education and provided a better focus on helping disadvantaged and underrepresented students. 

Moving forward, Evans said that the goal of the Pell Grant Program should continue to be to provide assistance to low-income students “with the talent and moxy” to succeed in postsecondary education. Oldham shared that she would like to see better data and more transparency about the value of higher education, which might help address the high cost of college.

View the documentary films and share your thoughts in the comments section below!


Publication Date: 2/24/2015

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