In an effort to double the Federal Pell Grant, the University of California (UC) has partnered with the University of California Student Association (UCSA) to lobby government officials to double the maximum amount awarded for the Pell Grant.
Since its inception, the Federal Pell Grant has provided the funding to help low-income students pay for higher education. It is awarded to students who are considered low-income undergraduates and who are U.S. citizens or eligible noncitizens. Students are automatically considered for a Pell Grant if they file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). According to the UCR Office of Financial Aid, awards range from $6,195 to $657 per academic year in 2019-20.
The UC announced that it was launching the Double the Pell campaign on Feb. 8, 2021. In a press release, the UC is urging 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.”
More than 7 million students take advantage of the grant each year to pay for a portion of their educational expenses. Forty years ago, the Pell Grant covered more than 75% of a student’s four-year public college costs; however, over time, disinvestment has corroded the value of the grant to approximately 28%. The UC’s Double the Pell campaign aims to further the UC’s commitment to ensuring that Californians and students across the nation have access to a quality, affordable college education. In the press release, UC President Michael Drake stated, “The University of California has a longstanding record of investing in financial aid and student success … 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.”
In an interview with The Highlander, Vincent Rasso, vice president of ASUCR’s Office of External Affairs, stated that the campaign’s main goal is to build strong support amongst national higher education partners, statewide student associations across the country and elected officials in the U.S. Congress to double the federal investment in the Pell Grant. It aims to double it from its current $6,500 maximum award, to cover a $13,000 maximum. Tuition and fees have risen exponentially alongside additional costs of attending college like basic needs, textbooks and more.
In August of 2020, the UCSA hosted its annual Student Organizing Summit via Zoom which allowed students from all backgrounds and across each UC campus to select their annual campaign priorities. At the end of the conference, Rasso stated that students voted for the Double the Pell campaign to be the main goal for UCSA’s “Fund the UC” efforts. Since August, the UCSA has organized on each individual campus to assess the unprecedented impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on their communities while building momentum for this effort to take off.
UCSA works at a state and national level in order to advocate for the accessibility, affordability and quality of a UC education for current and future UC students. “Double the Pell is a huge step we can take in all of those advocacy areas, especially after the disparities faced by our low-income student communities that have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” stated Rasso.
The Pell Grant is the largest federal investment made towards higher education in this country. Rasso stated that with a new presidential administration and with the power dynamic in D.C. shifted in one direction, it’s important to push for transformative change to support those who have been most impacted by a global pandemic, racial injustice and economic uncertainty. “Education attainment is the key to economic prosperity, and our very own campus UC Riverside is a national leader in social mobility for the success of low-income communities in higher education and obtaining a college degree,” said Rasso. He noted that UCR has the largest percentage of students enrolled who receive the Pell Grant, and UCR students stand to gain the most if their advocacy effort to double the Pell Grant is successful.
Students across the UC and the country have been urging their congressional representatives through social media, lobby meetings and direct email to their offices with their proposal to double the Pell Grant. The UC Advocacy Network and UCSA launched a petition to build strong support for the campaign publicly, and they have been urging every single student in our community, regardless if they receive the Pell Grant or not, to sign their petition. The UCSA has also met with the presidential transition team for the Biden-Harris Administration and spearheaded a joint-letter with five other statewide student associations representing more than 3 million students across the West Coast to include this priority in their education policy platform. The campaign is also actively collecting student testimonials to gain a better understanding on how the Pell Grant has impacted their college experience.
Once they are able to mobilize the Double the Pell campaign through Congress, “there will be a massive shift in the financial aid support for universities to support student needs,” stated Rasso. He noted that the Pell Grant has been a key financial support for student communities who come from low-income families, many of whom happen to be students of color, first generation, transfers, or have other non-traditional and underrepresented student backgrounds.
This federal investment would also call on state financial aid such as the Cal Grant and the UC’s institutional aid to expand to support more students that it currently does not support financially, which would occur through policy reform and expanded access to aid, especially for undocumented students, formerly incarcerated students and more.
The Double the Pell Grant campaign “would have a massive impact at UCR, which is a Hispanic-serving institution, has the largest share of Pell Grant recipients and first generation college students than most (if not all) UC campuses, and continues making strides and breaking barriers in educational attainment for marginalized communities,” stated Rasso.