NASFAA Report Explains Why Doubling Pell Would Be Mutually Beneficial for Low- and Middle-Income Families

Higher Pell Awards Versus More Pell Recipients: It’s Not an Either/Or Scenario

Contact: Erin Powers
Director of Marketing & Communications 
(202) 785-6959 
[email protected]

WASHINGTON, DC, November 1, 2021 — As we head into November, congressional committees are still parsing their way through legislation that could boost the federal Pell Grant, but the proposed increase of roughly $1,400 represents just the first small step toward making good on President Joe Biden’s campaign trail promise to double the annual maximum award from $6,495 to $13,000.

The Pell Grant has been the cornerstone of financial aid for students from low-income backgrounds for nearly half a century, but the proposal to double it has led some to question whether current and future college students would be better served if lawmakers shifted their focus, instead, to expanding eligibility to a wider range of recipients. 

In a report published today, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) examines how increased funding for the Pell Grant benefits middle-income families, in addition to its long-standing support of low-income students. Because of the way the Pell Grant is structured in statute, and how Pell Grant payment charts are created, Pell Grant eligibility cannot be expanded to more middle-income families without also increasing the maximum award, and the current maximum award cannot be increased without also giving higher awards to existing Pell Grant recipients.

Pell Grants help nearly 7 million low- and moderate-income students attend and complete college annually, with nearly 90% of Pell dollars going to students with a family income below $50,000, but those recipients too often bear disproportionate student debt burdens. Doubling the Pell Grant would serve the dual purpose of driving down loan debt and bolstering support for middle-income families that may not have enough money to pay for college out-of-pocket, but who also don’t currently qualify for federal grant funding.

The report presents two ways to expand Pell Grant eligibility further into the middle class, while also increasing Pell Grants to low-income families: 

  • Increasing the maximum Pell award amount.

  • Modifying the federal methodology formula.

"Doubling the Pell Grant represents a sustainable, front-end, and long-term solution to college access and affordability issues and is the simplest, most predictable method of expanding Pell Grant eligibility further into the middle class,” said NASFAA President Justin Draeger. “At a time when Americans are searching for simple, easy-to-understand solutions to college affordability, expanding this existing program makes the most sense.” 

To request an interview with a NASFAA spokesperson about this report or about doubling the federal Pell Grant, please email Director of Marketing and Communications Erin Powers.


The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) provides professional development for financial aid administrators; advocates for public policies that increase student access and success; serves as a forum on student financial aid issues; and is committed to diversity throughout all activities. NASFAA’s membership includes 22,000 student financial assistance professionals at approximately 3,000 colleges, universities, and career schools across the country. NASFAA member institutions serve nine out of every 10 undergraduates in the U.S.

Publication Date: 11/1/2021

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