WARWICK, RI - In an effort to address the issue of college
affordability and make the student financial aid process more efficient for
working families, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse today hosted a
conversation at CCRI’s Knight Campus on the future of federal financial
aid. While a college education has become more important for many jobs,
it is increasingly harder for families to afford tuition bills without
incurring massive amounts of debt. Topics at the forum included making
college more affordable, the restoration of year-round Pell grant funding, and
other issues relating to higher education in President Trump’s proposed budget.
During the discussion, Senators Reed and Whitehouse spoke
about the importance of Pell grants, which annually provides need-based federal
funding to help qualified students afford the rising costs of college.
Pell Grants help pay for tuition, but unlike student loans, they do not need to
be paid back. Last year, over 7 million students nationwide, including
30,000 Rhode Island students, benefited from over $28 billion in Pell Grants.
This school year, Rhode Island students benefited from approximately $107
million in Pell grants, which are named after former U.S. Senator Claiborne
Pell (D-RI) to honor the key leadership role he played in the program’s
In an effort to help more students afford higher education,
Reed and Whitehouse recently teamed up with Senators Maize Hirono (D-HI) and
Patty Murray (D-WA) to introduce the Pell Grant Preservation & Expansion
Act. The legislation would increase the maximum award for low-income
students, ensure that awards keep pace with inflation, and make other
improvements to expand and permanently safeguard the Pell Grant program.
“Congress needs to take proactive steps to help make college
more affordable for working families and strengthening Pell grants is part of
the equation. Pell grants can be the difference between students staying
in school and getting their degree or dropping out. The Trump budget
fails students and society because it would effectively decrease funding for
Pell grants by nearly $4 billion,” said Senator Reed. “The Pell grant is
the foundation of our federal financial aid programs. But over the years,
we have seen an erosion of that foundation. College costs have
outstripped the Pell Grant. In 1976, the maximum Pell Grant covered
roughly 72 percent of the cost of tuition and fees and room and board at a
four-year college. Today, it covers less than 30 percent of those
costs. Clearly, we need to increase the Pell Grant. However, we
also need to take other steps to ensure that college is affordable for all.
We need states to do their share. We need institutions to step up as
well. And we need students, families, employers, and community leaders to
help create the political will for investing in education.”
“Pell Grants once helped lift a generation into the middle
class by covering nearly the entire cost of attending a public university,”
said Senator Whitehouse. “Now, Trump proposes cuts to higher education,
even as the price of a college education has rapidly increased and the
purchasing power of a Pell Grant has eroded. Congress can't let Trump add
to the burden on middle class families paying for college. Instead, we
should renew the noble vision of the late senator from Rhode Island that all
students can afford a college education.”
The maximum Pell Grant for the 2017-2018 academic year will
be $5,920, an increase from last year’s maximum grant of $5,825. Under
President Trump’s proposed budget for FY2018, there will be no increase to this
maximum grant. Additionally, President Trump’s budget would blow a $3.9
billion hole in Pell grants during the 2017 academic year, along with cutting
funding for the Federal Work Study Program by nearly 50 percent to $500
million; cutting the TRIO Program by nearly $142 million; and cutting GEAR UP
by over $120 million, all of which help disadvantaged students pay for
college. The budget would also eliminate the $733 million Supplemental
Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG), and would have dire impacts on student
loans by eliminating the in-school interest subsidy for needy undergraduate
students and the public service loan forgiveness for new borrowers.
The Pell Grant Preservation and Expansion Act would:
the purchasing power of Pell Grants: The maximum Pell Grant of $5,920 in
2017-2018 will cover just 29 percent of the costs of college at a public
university, compared to 79 percent of those costs shortly after Congress
created the grant 40 years ago. Under current law, the maximum Pell Grant will
also remain fixed at this level in Fiscal Year 2018 with no future inflationary
increases, which would further erode the purchasing power of the grant. This
bill would provide an immediate $500 increase to the maximum award and grow the
value of the Pell Grant over time by permanently indexing it to inflation.
· Shift the
Pell Grant program to mandatory funding: By making Pell Grant funding fully
mandatory, instead of subject to the annual discretionary appropriations
process, this bill ensures that students can count on their Pell Grants being
fully funded now and into the future. In particular, enrollment tends to spike
during recessions when workers seek retraining and upskilling, often leading to
devastating exclusions from eligibility and other short-sighted changes to
financial aid policy. Mandatory funding will ensure that the Pell Grant program
is stable even during tough economic times.
Pell Grant eligibility for defrauded students: This bill would reset the clock
on a student’s Pell Grant eligibility if they were defrauded as evidenced by
successfully asserting a borrower defense, including many former Corinthian
DREAMers to afford college: Undocumented students who were brought here as
children are unfairly forbidden from accessing federal financial aid. This bill
would extend Pell Grant eligibility to DREAMers, help these students continue
their education, and allow our diverse society to benefit from their enormous
talents and potential.
Pell Grant eligibility to high-quality, short-term job training programs: This
bill would allow students in short-term job training to be eligible for Pell
Grants if they participate in a career pathway program leading to an in-demand,
industry-recognized credential. It is important that students and workers have
the option to pursue short-term programs to gain the training, skills, and
credentials that are in high demand in their local or regional labor market,
and that prepare them for professional licensure or certification.
· Move the
Iraq & Afghanistan Service Grant into the Pell Grant program: By moving
this program for children of fallen military servicemembers who died in the
line of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan since 9/11 into the Pell Grant program, it
safeguards a recipient from more than $400 per year in cuts to their grant as a
result of the sequester.
support for working students: This bill reduces the “work penalty” that many
students face when working to support themselves and offset rising college
costs. By enacting a 35 percent increase to the income protection allowance
(IPA) for working students, this bill will shield more of their income from any
offset to financial aid.
· Allow very
low-income students and families to qualify for full Pell Grants: This bill
fully reverses cuts to the income threshold at which a student receives a zero
dollar expected family contribution (EFC) back to $34,000, which is where the
level would have grown to if cuts had not been made in 2011. This change will
streamline the financial aid process for the poorest students and ensure they
can easily access a full Pell Grant.
Pell Grant lifetime eligibility to 14 semesters: Too many students exhaust
their Pell Grant eligibility before they are able to complete their program,
often because their credits didn’t transfer, they had to care for family
members, or even when they attended fraudulent institutions. This bill extends
eligibility from the current 12 semesters to 14.