FCAN’s Amy Bolick, Community Engagement and Programs Manager, was recently joined by Carrie Warick, Director of Policy and Advocacy at National College Access Network (NCAN), and Daniel Barkowitz, Assistant Vice President for Financial Aid and Veterans Affairs at Valencia College and President-Elect of the Florida Association for Student Financial Aid Administrators, who shared details about the past, present, and future of the Pell grant.
Why is the Pell Grant Important?
According to recent data, 60% of FAFSA filers in Florida were eligible for federal Pell grants, making Florida’s population the 3rd highest for the proportion of Pell-eligible students. Despite these high levels of eligibility, however, Florida ranks 31st in the nation for the proportion of eligible high school seniors completing a FAFSA. Because of this, Florida’s students leave behind over $100 million in potential Pell Grants every year.
To make sure Florida’s students continue to benefit from the Pell grant, it is essential to both protect and strengthen the existing Pell grant program, and to engage in best practices to support students who receive Pell grants.
The Pell Grant: Past, Present, and Future
Daniel provided a brief overview of how the Pell grant program began, the purchasing power of Pell over time, and efforts employed by Valencia College to help students take full advantage of funds available to them.
The History of the Pell Grant
In 1965, the Higher Education Act was signed into law under President Lyndon Johnson as an effort to strengthen educational resources as part of his War on Poverty program. The Pell grant was implemented as an amendment to this act in 1972, becoming the largest need-based federal education grant program in the country’s history.
Purchasing Power of Pell
When the Pell grant program was first passed, the maximum award was $1,400, which covered 87% of tuition and fees at a public four-year institution. Daniel emphasized that, while the maximum award has since increased to $6,095, Pell has failed to keep pace with rapidly increasing tuition costs. As a result, Pell now covers only 59% of tuition and fees at a four-year public institution.
Helping Students Access More Pell Dollars
In spite of Pell’s decreased purchasing power, there have been recent efforts by the Department of Education and the legislature to strengthen the program. In the summer of 2017, the Department of Education announced the implementation of Year-Round Pell (also sometimes referred to as Summer Pell), which allows students to receive up to 150% of their maximum annual Pell award if they enroll at least half-time over the summer.
Daniel explained that allowing students to access additional Pell dollars can be critical to helping them complete their degrees. To encourage students at Valencia College to take advantage of this opportunity, the team at the college’s financial aid department engaged in a comprehensive student communication strategy.
First, they send a letter in the fall to all students using Pell grants to inform them of the option to use additional Pell dollars over the summer. Then, they sent a follow-up letter to all students who had enrolled full time in both fall and spring full to suggest taking advantage of full time enrollment during the summer to help accelerate their progress to graduation. For students who had enrolled part-time in fall and spring, they sent letters encouraging part-time summer enrollment to help them stay on track toward degree completion.
As a result, Valencia saw the number of Pell-disbursed students enrolled full-time over the summer nearly double over the previous year. Across the college, these students benefitted from an additional $5.5 million in awarded Pell grant dollars.
Showing We are #Thankful4Pell
Carrie shared details of NCAN’s #Thankful4Pell campaign, an annual effort to remind lawmakers of the importance of the Pell grant. The purpose of the campaign is to engage with members of congress on social media, share stories about the impact of the Pell grant, and encourage these leaders to continue protecting the program. NCAN encourages college access advocates to use the hashtag #Thankful4Pell to start a dialogue with their representatives.
To learn more about the history of the Pell grant, its current implementation, and strategies for helping more students access their highest award, take advantage of these resources: