Students from eight student associations across the country joined together Monday to call for a common goal at a virtual conference: doubling the Pell Grant.
The Pell Grant is a federal award that aims to make higher education more affordable for low-income students. Monday’s announcement, organized by the UC Student Association, or UCSA, launches the national “Double the Pell Week of Action,” where student activists from California, Arizona, Washington, Oregon, Georgia, New York and Minnesota will meet with their congressional representatives to advocate for increasing the maximum Pell Grant award to $13,000 by 2024.
UCSA student representatives said, after decades of inflation and rising tuition, the current maximum Pell Grant of $6,495 is insufficient for today’s higher education costs, as it only covers about 30% of the cost of attendance.
“The federal government made a commitment to students in establishing the Pell Grant program with the intent of allowing any student, regardless of their financial means, to access a higher education,” said UCSA President Aidan Arasasingham at the press conference. “Restoring the grant’s purchasing power to its original value would honor that commitment.”
Joshua Lewis, a campus junior and UCSA Government Relations Committee chair, said increasing Pell Grant awards would particularly help take financial pressure off of UC Berkeley students.
He added that the high cost of living specifically in Berkeley significantly increases the cost of attendance beyond the price point of tuition.
“(UC) Berkeley students struggle significantly with costs like housing, transportation and food,” Lewis said. “The peripheral costs of attendance are so high that the students who are able to access the UC are those with significant privilege.”
In 2019, 43% of UC Berkeley transfers entrees and 22% of all freshman entrees were Pell Grant recipients.
UC Berkeley junior Edgar Oseguera Martinez is one of them.
Despite receiving the maximum Pell Grant award, as well as other scholarships, Oseguera Martinez said he quickly learned his freshman year that he was unable to afford the cost of living in Berkeley and decided to move home and commute from Oakland as a sophomore.
Oseguera Martinez added that increasing the Pell Grant would allow low-income UC Berkeley students to focus on school instead of needing to juggle work, commuting and academics.
“It’s crazy how many students have to work a job while also in school,” Oseguera Martinez said. “That definitely takes away from the time you spent studying, time and energy that could be spent improving your grades and looking for internships and overall preparing you for what college is meant for.”
He noted that, when the Pell Grant was at its peak, its maximum grant covered more than three-fourths of the average cost of attendance at a four-year public university.
Oseguera Martinez added that he is excited about the activism happening right now to increase the grant’s purchasing power.
“The Pell Grant definitely has to get an update to meet the needs of students in 2021 and in the future,” Oseguera Martinez said.