Resources & Publications

Keeping Pell on Track to Help Low-Income Americans Afford College

Dec 16, 2013

By Manuela Ekowo and Julie Strawn

The Save Pell Coalition, of which CLASP is a member, has released new findings on the current state of the Pell Grant program and the many students who are counting on it. Key takeaways include:

The Need: Students rely on Pell Grants more than ever

  • Nine million Americans depend on Pell Grants to attend and complete college.
  • Next year's maximum Pell Grant will cover the smallest share of college costs since the start of the program. As recently as the 1980s, the maximum Pell Grant covered more than half the cost of attending a four-year public college. But even after recent increases, the scheduled $5,785 maximum Pell Grant in 2014-15 is expected to cover less than one-third of the cost of college.
  • Pell Grant recipients are already more than twice as likely as other students to have student loans (61 percent vs. 29 percent). Among Pell Grant recipients who graduate from four-year colleges, nearly 9 out of 10 have student loans. According to a new report from the Project on Student Debt at the Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), 7 in 10 college seniors who graduated in 2012 had student loan debt. The average debt was $29,400.
  • More than 60 percent of African-American undergraduates (up from 50 percent in March 2013) and half of Hispanic undergraduates (up from 40 percent) rely on Pell Grants to attend school.

The Demand: Business and the public demand higher skills

  • The economy's demand for college-educated workers is projected to increase at double the rate of supply.
  • A college degree dramatically increases employment and wages. Young adults with only a high school diploma are almost 3 times as likely to be unemployed, and earn less than three-fifths as much, as those with a bachelor's degree.
  • People of all backgrounds, ages, and party affiliations oppose cuts to Pell Grants and believe college affordability should be a top priority for Congress and the economy. Surveys consistently find near universal agreement on: the importance of a college education for individuals and the economy; concerns about costs and debt; and the need to make college affordability and financial aid policy top priorities.

The Sacrifice: Pell Grants have already been hard hit

  • Recent budget agreements reduced Pell Grant funding by more than $50 billion. The FY11 budget agreement eliminated "year-round" Pell Grants, while the FY12 omnibus appropriations bill placed tight restrictions on eligibility. Taken together, these changes have slashed Pell Grants by roughly $5 billion (12 percent) per year and more than $50 billion over 10 years.

Tell Congress it is critical that Pell be protected from sequester and in next year's appropriations process!

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