Advancing Our Goals to Reduce Poverty by Supporting Pell Grants: A Primer for Non-Postsecondary Education Advocates

By Lauren Walizer

For years, Pell grants have been the foundation of financial aid for low-income students seeking postsecondary education. These grants are among the many anti-poverty efforts that have struggled as Congress has slashed funding for federal programs, particularly those included in the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor-HHS-Ed) budget allocation. To make matters worse, President Trump proposes even deeper and more unacceptable cuts to important programs for low-income people in his fiscal year 2018 budget.

This week, Congress begins the process of making funding decisions for fiscal year 2018. Before final determinations are made, advocates and others who are concerned about addressing poverty would benefit from developing a fuller understanding of the Pell grant program and the people who benefit from it. For instance, of the 11.6 million jobs created nationwide since the Great Recession, 11.5 million have gone to people with more than a high school diploma. Postsecondary education is critical for helping people increase their earning potential and promoting long-term success in quality employment, and Pell grants are essential for helping low-income students afford that education. However, the average Pell Grant award has barely increased since 1975, and the maximum award has actually decreased (in inflation-adjusted dollars). Moreover, Pell faces ongoing threats to both student eligibility and program funding.

Our latest paper, Reprioritizing Our Investment in Pell Grants to Further Reduce Poverty, explains who these students are, the threats the program faces, and how changes to Pell funding could improve the stability of the program and the overall Labor-HHS-Ed allocation. This paper is intended as a primer for those who are unfamiliar with postsecondary education issues so they can strengthen the chorus of voices in support of this program.

Read the paper here.