President Obama Continues to Push for Pell Grant Expansion

Posted By Eliana Osborn on February 11, 2016 at 9:28 am
President Obama Continues to Push for Pell Grant Expansion

A big part of the Obama administration higher education plan includes more funding for Pell grants.  This form of financial aid is based on need and is a central component to getting lower income students into college.  Pell grants are newly available for federal inmates, dual-enrolled high school students, those attending non-traditional programs, and more.

At his 2016 State of the Union address, President Obama addressed the need for Pell grant expansion.  Right now, there’s a limit to the number of semesters you can receive Pell funds.  For many students, that means they cannot take classes year-round during shorter summer terms, for example.  The other Pell problem reflects college tuition issues generally.  Costs continue to rise, but grant money has not kept up with that trend.

According to the White House press office, “The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act invests more than $40 billion in Pell Grants to ensure that all eligible students receive an award and that these awards are increased in future years to help keep pace with both inflation and the rising costs of college.” That was back in 2010.  If year-round Pell comes back, an estimated 700,000 students will benefit and be able to use nearly $2,000 more on classes.

8.6 million students used Pell grants during 2013-14, down from an all-time high of 9.4 million in 2011-12.  Reports from the Brookings Institute in 2015 explain, “In 2011, the year-round Pell provision was repealed,” and the income level for automatic eligibility dropped from $30,000 to $23,000.

The second part of recent Pell proposals has to do with incentives for taking a full credit load.  The ‘On-Track Pell Bonus’ will “raise the maximum Pell Grant award by $300 for students who take 15 credits per semester in an academic year. The bonus would encourage students to take the credits needed to finish an associate degree in two years or a bachelor’s degree in four years.”

In his 2015 State of the Union address, President Obama presented his ideas for free community college, something he’s continued to support but has not seen come to fruition.  This year’s speech he said, “Now, we’ve got to actually cut the cost of college.  Providing two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student is one of the best ways to do that, and I’m going to keep fighting to get that started this year.”  Pell grants are a big part of that.

Since 2008, the number of Pell grant recipients has increased by 50%.  That’s a huge accomplishment for one of the central pillars of Obama’s higher education plan.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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