UC advocates for Congress, Biden administration to invest in college affordability with Double the Pell campaign

The University of California announced today (Feb. 8) that it is launching the Double the Pell campaign to urge Congress and the new federal administration to charter a more affordable pathway to higher education for America’s students and families. UC is partnering with the University of California Student Association (UCSA) in this national advocacy effort to boost financial support for low-income students across the country, which will include virtual events and information sessions.

The Pell Grant is the main way the federal government helps low-income students afford college, with more than 7 million students taking advantage of the grant each year to pay a portion of their educational expenses. Forty years ago, the Pell Grant covered more than 75 percent of a student’s four-year public college costs. Over time, disinvestment has eroded the value of the grant to around 28 percent.

UC’s Double the Pell campaign furthers its commitment to ensuring that Californians and students across the nation have access to a quality, affordable college education. UC enrolls a higher percentage of low-income students than any of its public or private peer institutions. In fact, three UC campuses each enroll more Pell students than the entire Ivy League combined.

“The University of California has a longstanding record of investing in financial aid and student success,” said UC President Michael V. Drake, M.D. “However, UC cannot do this alone. We need impactful, long-term support for students and for higher education across the country; we need Congress to double the Pell as a down payment on America’s future.”

UC is pushing Congress to double the maximum Pell Grant, which was $6,345 in academic year 2020-21. For 2021-22, UC was pleased Congress heeded the call by the University, along with other higher education leaders, to raise the maximum annual award to $6,495. Over the next three fiscal years, UC is advocating that Congress continue its commitment by raising the maximum award by $2,168 to effectively double the Pell Grant to $13,000 by FY 2024.

“Ensuring a more affordable, accessible higher education across the country is one of the greatest investments America can make — not only in those students, but also in their future contributions to the economy and to society,” said UC Board Chair John A. Pérez. “Their advancement and success will yield limitless dividends over years and decades.”

The University is partnering with various organizations and individuals in its push to double the federal Pell Grant and minimize current and future student debt, as well as to help address the economic insecurity exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. UC is collaborating with UCSA, UC Advocacy Network, the Washington Student Association and the Ohio Student Association, as well as national student advocacy organizations such as The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS) and National College Attainment Network (NCAN).

“Addressing the challenges of access and affordability is a priority of UCSA,” said University of California Student Association President Aidan Arasasingham. “For too long in America, we have seen low-income, first-generation, and undocumented students as well as individuals of color inequitably shoulder the financial burden from a college degree. Doubling the Pell takes us one step further on the path to a debt-free graduation.”

The success of the Pell Grant program in driving socioeconomic mobility is evident at UC, with the power to transform a family’s earning potential in a single generation. More than 78,000 UC students — 35 percent of all undergraduates — receive Pell Grants. Within five years of graduating, the median individual income of Pell Grant students exceeds that of their families at the time they enrolled. More than one in three UC alumni who come from the bottom 20 percent of income earners rise to the top 20 percent as adults.

“Higher education has long been one of the country’s primary economic equalizers,” said Shawn Brick, the University’s executive director of student financial support. “At UC, we see how robust financial aid can help alleviate the financial burden for disadvantaged students. In addition to need-based grants and the state’s Cal Grant program for Californian students, boosting Pell Grants will provide an even greater return on investment to taxpayers.”

Students across the country continue to lack adequate food and housing security, as well as access to affordable child care, reliable technology and other resources that make pursuing a higher education possible. With a substantial federal investment in the Pell Grant, America’s lowest-income students can graduate with much less student debt and more easily achieve financial security.

One of the greatest barriers to a college education is the price of university attendance and the resulting debt for students and their families. This economic hurdle is often felt even more acutely by undergraduates from under-resourced backgrounds that may include first-generation, low-income, and undocumented students, or persons of color. When students graduate with enormous debts, they put off having families, purchasing homes and making other significant investments in our economy. Alleviating this debt burden now, and into the future, would help jumpstart America’s economic growth at a critical time for our state and nation.

If students and their families are provided access to additional Pell Grant dollars, institutional and state aid can be more effectively maximized to supplement associated costs and also help UC students who may not qualify for federal assistance. Last year alone, Pell Grants provided slightly more than $400 million in support to UC students. In comparison, UC invested nearly $800 million in need-based grants, while the state of California awarded $950 million through the Cal Grant program.

Fifty-six percent of California undergraduates who attend UC pay no tuition, largely due to the state of California’s Cal Grant program and the University’s Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan, an institutional aid program to cover tuition as well as housing, food, books and transportation for needy students.