Commemoration of 50th anniversary of Pell Grant marked with calls to double aid

photo of berkeley fountain
Jonathan Hale/Staff
The Pell Grant, a program that assists with making college more affordable for students, reached its 50th anniversary Thursday.

Related Posts

Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of the Pell Grant since its creation in 1972, with the intention of making college more affordable for students.

Both UC President Michael Drake and the UC Student Association commemorated the anniversary by posting a signable electronic birthday card encouraging the U.S. Congress to continue supporting “the future of this critical program.”

Within the past 50 years, the program has assisted approximately 80 million students, especially low-income and marginalized students, according to a university press release.

Adam Ratliff, campus spokesperson, stated that in the 2020-21 academic year, Pell Grant recipients composed 26% of the undergraduate student body. Ratliff added that campus in particular has more Pell Grant recipients than private universities and most public institutions.

“Pell Grants are an investment that helps ensure that low- and middle-income students can afford and complete college, participate in the U.S. workforce, and build their own American dream,” said Matt Owens, executive vice president of the American Association of Universities, in an email.

The American Association of Universities is part of 1,200 organizations and institutions that are pushing to not only continue investing in the grant, but doubling the monetary aid.

According to Michele Streeter, associate director of policy and advocacy for the Institute for College Access & Success, which is among the organizations in support of doubling the grant, the program has been effective in making college affordable; however, the costs covered by the grant are at “an all-time low.”

At its peak in the 1975-76 academic year, the maximum grant covered more than 3/4 of the cost of attending a four-year public college. More recently, the 2018-19 academic year’s maximum award amount covers just 28% of that cost, Streeter added.

Streeter said raising the maximum aid from its current amount of $6,895 to $13,000 would double the current total and restore the grant to its original financial intent. She added this act could support students’ specific needs in a variety of ways.

“This could mean taking on less debt; being better able to cover basic living costs (such as food, housing, transportation, and childcare); working fewer hours and having more time for schoolwork and extracurricular activities (and possibly completing a degree more quickly); and being able to live on campus when doing so otherwise may have been cost-prohibitive,” Streeter said in an email.

Streeter added that increased aid could also motivate students to attend institutions that they are interested in attending but might be unaffordable.

Daelynn Castillo, a sophomore at UC Berkeley, said receiving the Pell Grant has ultimately helped her succeed in college.

“It contributes to my tuition so I don’t have to pay as much,” Castillo said. “It definitely takes a weight off of my shoulders.”

Maya Jimenez and Luis Saldana contributed to this report.

Contact Maya Jimenez and Luis Saldana at [email protected].