The $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill signed into law on March 15 includes $3 billion for higher education, an additional $25 billion for federal student aid, and the largest increase to the maximum Pell Grant in more than a decade. Higher education advocates celebrated the $400 Pell increase—which brings the maximum award to $6,895 for the 2022-23 academic year—but emphasized that it falls far short of their goal to double the grant.
Pell Grant increase larger than usual but still lagging
Each year, nearly 7 million students receive Pell Grants, and that aid has lost significant purchasing power in the nearly 50 years since its creation. According to Higher Ed Dive, the maximum Pell grant covers less than one-third of the cost of attending a public, four-year college, down from three quarters of the cost in the 1970s.
College advocates have been pushing federal officials to double the maximum Pell Grant. President Joe Biden recently proposed a lower short-term target, calling for a $2,000 increase in his March State of the Union, but Congress delivered just a $400 boost for the 2022-23 academic year.
Both the administration and advocates are still setting their sights on a maximum Pell Grant above $13,000. In a statement, U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona applauded the latest $400 increase and called it “a down payment on the President’s call to double Pell.”
Calling the latest increase “a step in the right direction,” Kim Cook, CEO of the National College Attainment Network, reiterated the importance of doubling the Pell Grant. Doing so, she said, “would restore the maximum grant’s purchasing power to half the average cost of attendance for a bachelor’s degree at an in-state, public institution.”
Package bolsters other higher ed funding
The spending bill’s higher ed funding includes $452 million more than last fiscal year’s budget. One highlight, said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor One, is “a notable funding increase” for historically Black colleges and universities, Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities, and other Minority Serving Institutions, which saw a combined allocation of $885 million, a $96 million increase over FY 2021.
The spending package also includes:
- $895 million for the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, funding for undergraduates with extraordinary financial need—a $15 million increase
- $1.2 billion for Federal Work Study—a $20 million increase
- $50 million for grants to implement and improve community colleges’ educational and career-training programs
- $20 million to increase rural students’ enrollment and retention
- Funds to allow the Department of Education to further expand eligibility for Public Service Loan Forgiveness
- Adjustments to the FAFSA Simplification Act legislation, which was passed last year and seeks to streamline the process for students seeking federal financial aid
Noting that this latest spending bill faced significant delays and funds the government only through the end of September, Higher Ed Dive reports that President Joe Biden is likely to release his budget proposal for the next fiscal year soon.