NASFAA Joins a Thousand Plus Higher Ed Organizations, Institutions in Urging Congress to Double the Pell Grant

Related Topics in the Ref Desk: Pell Grant; Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant Program (FSEOG); Federal Work-Study Program (FWS)

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter 

As lawmakers pivot from coronavirus relief aid to other policy priorities, NASFAA is calling on congressional leaders to use this session to double the maximum Pell Grant award to $13,000.

With leadership from both sides of the aisle looking to address higher education affordability in the wake of the ongoing pandemic, NASFAA joined a coalition of more than 1,000  higher education organizations and institutions on a letter sent to members of Congress arguing that this long overdue investment will drive economic recovery, help address racial and economic inequities in college completion rates, and increase overall educational attainment.

“Students from low- and moderate-income families are in critical need of additional grant aid to pay for college,” the letter reads. “Doubling the maximum Pell Grant — and permanently indexing the grant to inflation to ensure its value doesn’t diminish over time — will boost college enrollment, improve graduation rates, and honor the history and value of these grants as the keystone federal investment in college affordability.”

NASFAA President Justin Draeger said doubling the maximum Pell Grant award would “deliver critically needed resources to our nation’s diverse student population, particularly our lowest-income students.”

“Though this increase is long-overdue, the need for such robust federal investment in the Pell Grant program has never been greater, as students and families continue to feel the economic impact caused by the pandemic,” said NASFAA President Justin Draeger. “We urge Congress to double the maximum Pell Grant and, in turn, support the postsecondary access and success of millions of students across the country.”

A recent survey from Inside Higher Ed found that 79% of college and university presidents back doubling the Pell Grant, citing that it would benefit students and their respective institutions.

As the congressional budget cycle for fiscal year 2022 begins, NASFAA has also joined a number of higher education organizations in calling for appropriators to maintain high funding for a number of student aid programs.

In a letter to House and Senate appropriators, the Student Aid Alliance (SAA) outlines a number of suggestions for Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Pensions — along with their respective ranking members Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) — as they work through their fiscal 2022 allocations.

Aside from doubling the Pell Grant, the alliance urges appropriators to make investments in campus-based aid by funding the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG) at $1.061 billion and Federal Work-Study (FWS) at $1.48 billion. In the final fiscal year 2021 package, FSEOG was funded at $880 million while FWS was funded at $1.19 billion.

The groups also call for the TRIO program to be increased to $1.3 billion, citing the economic impact of the pandemic.

“During the COVID crisis, students from high-poverty high schools had a plunge in college enrollment — nearly one third lower than the year before,” the letter reads. “Students in low-income families have been twice as likely to drop out of college as their wealthier peers during this crisis. Without TRIO’s individualized supports, we may see a lost generation of promising students.”

The alliance further urges that GEAR UP be funded at $435 million, which would bring approximately 100,000 new students into the program and increase the overall number of students served to 623,000, and that the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) be increased to $35 million to reflect the need for increased investment.

Lastly, the organizations argue that the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership grants be funded at $65 million. 

“While this program has not been funded since [fiscal year] 2011, it has not been repealed, and provides a strong federal-state partnership for states to increase their efforts to support need-based financial aid,” the letter reads.

It is unclear when the appropriations process will begin in earnest, as the White House has not yet submitted a formal budget request. The administration currently plans to release its discretionary spending priorities next week, with a full budget request expected in the coming months.


Publication Date: 3/25/2021

Jared W | 3/26/2021 2:16:42 PM

Or...the Federal Government can get out of the student loan business and quit guaranteeing between $5500 and $20500 to every student who does a FAFSA. Then schools would take the hint that their tuition prices are ridiculous and reduce costs. Then that would make the current maximum Pell go much further.

Theodore M | 3/26/2021 12:44:21 PM

James, it is exactly the point for the Pell to exceed the direct cost of Tuition and Fees. It did in the late '70s when the Pell was at its peak purchasing power. At that time it covered 75% of the COA for the average public 4-year.

Jeff A | 3/26/2021 11:7:42 AM

Doubling Pell would certainly close many institutions subject to the 90-10 rule. How do you reconcile policy that increases federal assistance with policy that limits federal assistance? Which is it?

David S | 3/26/2021 10:43:02 AM

Julie - I think if you look at the disparity between the median wealth between white and non-white families, as well as those between the post-graduation earnings of white and non-white college graduates, then how this addresses racial and economic inequities becomes quite clear. It means that lower income students and families - disproportionately Black and Latinx and recent immigrants - would be less reliant on loans.

As for maximum Pell awards exceeding tuition and fees - great, bring it on. Students have living expenses and textbooks and bus passes and child care and all kinds of other expenses that if they can't afford, they all too often can't stay in school. If the state grant is tuition-restricted (a phrase I'd like to see eliminated from the financial aid lingo), then the increased Pell can be put to very good use for other entirely non-discretionary expenses.

Please folks...we're talking about what would be the biggest increase in investment in federal financial aid since forever. We should not be the ones saying "yeah, but..."

Julie A | 3/26/2021 9:45:52 AM

I agree with James C's entire post.
It is not clear to me how doubling Pell grant awards for zero EFC students will "help address racial and economic inequities in college completion rates" when completing the FAFSA puts everyone on a level playing field. Unless the FAFSA is changed to award eligibility "points/dollars" based on race, religion, etc..... Again, the correlation is not clear. Doubling the Pell awards, however, may give institutions of higher learning the artificial foundation requested to raise the cost of attendance because students could then "afford" it. The cycle then continues.

James C | 3/26/2021 8:54:20 AM

For the vast majority of public institutions, doubling the top Pell grant would exceed tuition and fees. Also, some of the state grant calculations are based on how much Pell grant a student receives, so the state grant would be eliminated/or drastically reduced for many low EFC students. Also, many institutions base their need based scholarships on other grant-in-aid the student is receiving, so low EFC students would see lower need based institutional scholarships. The bottom line is that if the Pell is doubled you can't assume the students' net "free money" would double. That could free up state and institutional money for more moderate income families so that wouldn't be a bad thing. I would rather see a modest increase in the top award and amend the formula to allow higher EFCs to receive some Pell if Congress wants to double the Pell spending.

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