California educators want Congress to double the maximum price of the Pell grant
The Cal State Northridge campus in Los Angeles County.
The Cal State Northridge campus in Los Angeles County.
With Democrats now in control of Congress and the White House, higher education leaders in California are optimistic the federal government may soon increase the amount of financial aid available to students.
Administrators and student governments at California’s public colleges and universities are pushing to increase the maximum amount of the Pell Grant, the primary source of federal financial aid available to low- and middle-income students, from about $ 6,500 to $ 13,000. The grants are awarded annually to millions of students across the country who are in financial need.
The UC President’s Office and the UC Students’ Association recently launched a joint campaign to urge Congress to double the maximum amount of the Pell grant. They were also part of a coalition of California higher education leaders who wrote a letter to the California congressional delegation to ask them to prioritize this proposal. The system-wide chancellors of California State University, which has 23 campuses, and the state’s 116 community colleges have also signed the letter, as have the student governments of those systems.
When he was a presidential candidate, Joe Biden campaign platform including the doubling of the maximum premium. Biden reiterated that commitment after winning the election. The candidate for the post of Undersecretary of Education, James Kvaal, has also previously called for the doubling of the Pell, urging Congress to do so during 2019 testimony. Kvaal, President of the Institute for College Access and Success, an organization that promotes greater affordability in higher education, has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.
Any action to extend the Pell grant would require approval from Congress. If the Pell Grant is doubled, it would be a huge boost for the hundreds of thousands of students in California who increasingly need help paying for non-tuition fees like housing and fees. food – often referred to as basic needs. Experts also predict that the percentage of students eligible for Pell scholarships will likely increase after the pandemic due to the loss of wages for many families.
Across UC’s nine undergraduate campuses, about one-third of students are Pell recipients, or about 78,000 students in total. At the state’s 116 community colleges, approximately 420,000 receive these awards, or about 20% of students. And across CSU’s 23 campuses, approximately 230,000 students receive Pell Scholarships, nearly half of the system’s total undergraduate enrollment.
CSU is “absolutely” in favor of expanding the Pell Scholarship, said Luoluo Hong, CSU’s associate vice-chancellor for student affairs and enrollment management. Hong noted that CSU serves many first-generation and low-income students and pointed out that the current maximum Pell grant does not cover 100% of tuition and fees at any CSU campus.
“And it doesn’t even begin to address the total costs of participation yet,” Hong said. “For students in California, where the cost of living is disproportionately higher than elsewhere in the country, this means that every additional dollar of Pell Grant aid can help secure housing, food, transportation and other tuition fees. “
At the University of California, leaders have been strategizing for years to find new ways to help students meet their basic needs. With Democrats now in charge in Washington, UC has determined that “the next iteration in trying to get more funding for basic needs” should be to advocate for an expansion of the Pell Grant, Crystal Martinez said. , Director of Education in the Federal Government Office at UC. Reports.
“It would be a vehicle to really change the lives of our lowest income students,” Martinez said in an interview. She added that she expects Congress to be able to act on the issue through a budget reconciliation process, which would only require a simple majority of 51 votes in the Senate.
Rakia White, a junior at UC Berkeley, relies on the Pell Grant to pay for her education, but it doesn’t go any further. To pay for her diploma, she still had to work 60 hours a week at three jobs before the Covid-19 pandemic: as a concierge in a hotel, as a nanny and as a receptionist in the university’s advisory service. She lost those jobs when the pandemic hit.
White is majoring in sociology and African American studies. With more Pell Grant money, she could work fewer hours, spend more time on homework, and not have to take out loans.
Instead, she had to go into debt, which not only caused her stress, but also made her unsure of her plans after graduation. White wants to go straight to college for social work, but she isn’t sure it will be financially feasible to do so. She may need to take the time to work and pay off her debts before continuing her education.
“It’s disheartening because you do all this work to get that degree and then you drop out of school and you have to do all this work to pay it off. But if the Pell grant were doubled, it would alleviate that a lot, ”she said.
A first generation student, Dalila Lara also held several jobs while studying biological anthropology at UC Santa Barbara.
Lara is part of the Smithsonian Scholars Program at UC Santa Barbara. As part of the program, she was able to conduct research one summer on the Channel Islands of California. With more financial help from the Pell Grant program, Lara said she likely would have chosen a more intensive major – biology – and had time to pursue more research opportunities like the Channel Islands.
“I think if I had had more time to explore the research, what would that have led me to?” ” she said.
It’s not uncommon for Pell grant recipients like Lara and White to have to find other ways to pay for their education. The Pell grant has lost significant purchasing power over time. In 1980, a maximum grant covered 77% of the average cost of a four-year public college, according to UC. Now it only covers 28% of that cost.
The maximum amount of the Pell Grant has increased over the years, but has been overtaken by inflation and rising costs associated with attending college, such as housing costs.
As a result, currently available financial aid scholarships “become insufficient” for many of the 2.1 million students attending community colleges in California, said Andrew Nickens, vice president of legislative affairs for the Community College Student Senate. from California.
Nickens said enrollment has declined significantly at many community colleges this school year, with some colleges losing 20% or more of their students.
“It is clear that students simply do not have the resources they need to access higher education. President Biden and the 117th Congress have the option of increasing access, to ensure that students actually have the resources they need, ”Nickens said at a press conference on the matter.
During the 2021-2022 academic year, the maximum amount of the Pell Grant will be approximately $ 6,500. Under UC’s proposal, the maximum scholarship amount would then increase by approximately $ 2,000 over the next three years until it reaches $ 13,000 for the 2024-25 academic year. The proposal also calls for the price to be automatically adjusted for inflation so that it does not lose purchasing power again over time.
Doubling the maximum amount could allow low-income students to graduate from UC without going into debt.
The university explored creating a path to a debt-free UC degreebut getting there “depends on additional resources,” said Shawn Brick, executive director of student financial support at UC.
UC estimates the average cost of living on campus to be around $ 35,000. Currently, low-income students can get enough scholarships to cover about $ 25,000 of these costs, between the Pell Grant, UC Institutional Scholarships and Cal scholarships, financial aid scholarships funded by the State.
If low-income students received an additional $ 6,000 or $ 7,000 from the annual Pell Grants, that would cover most of the difference. They could then work part-time to pay the remaining fees without needing to take out loans.
“Any increase in the federal Pell grant would definitely be the key to making a debt-free path a reality for UC students, and doubling the Pell grant, I think, would make that very possible,” Brick said in a statement. interview.
The push to expand the Pell grant comes at a particularly crucial time due to the coronavirus pandemic. With many adults and families reporting lost jobs or wages as a result of the pandemic, it is “entirely possible” that more students across the country will be eligible for Pell Grants in the years to come, said Debbie Cochrane, executive vice president of the Institute for College Access and Achievement.
Hong, the associate vice chancellor of the CSU, said that the CSU expects the percentage of students eligible for Pell “to increase in the coming years” as the Covid-19 pandemic has “had a disproportionately negative impact more important on those who are already in the lowest income levels.
Meanwhile, UC has seen a slight increase in the number of families who have asked the university to review their eligibility for financial aid, The Brick said. “This is proof, I would say, of a change in fortunes in terms of family income,” he said.
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