Pell Grants the Key to Opening the Door to Higher Education

For New England Council

As the price of college tuitions continue to rise, both in public and private institutions throughout the nation, it is becoming increasingly important to address the hardships related to the burden of repaying unmanageable student loans.  We must do all we can to keep the doors to higher education open and accessible to all students, particularly those that are most economically disadvantaged.


The Pell Grant program is one of the most successful need-based aid programs in our nation’s history.  Pell Grants assist around 5.3 million full- and part-time college and vocational school students each year.  This program has been one of the most successful in helping low-income students fulfill their dreams of a higher education.


But the maximum award amount of $4,050 has remained stagnant for more than five years, and due to inflation and rising tuition costs, the grant no longer yields the same purchasing power it once did.  Today, the maximum Pell grant award covers only 33 percent of the average cost of attending a public four-year college, whereas 30 years ago, it represented 80 percent of the cost.


In addition, a growing reliance on student loans has proven to have a negative effect on students from low-income families who want to attend college.  From working at Husson College in Bangor, prior to my election to the Senate, I know this to be true.  Working families in New England are committed to living within their means.  Understandably, they are wary of taking on the burden of debt required to finance tuition in today’s world.  At Husson, 85 to 90 percent of students receive some type of federal financial aid, and more than half receive Pell Grants.


Higher education not only benefits individual students but also our economy.  It is crucial to both the New England and national economy that our workforce be well-educated.  Unlike forty years ago, when our economy was one based mainly on labor and manufacturing, success in the current and future global economy is contingent upon knowledge.  Many jobs now require at least some post-secondary education, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that these requirements will continue to grow over the next ten years.


Last month, I wrote the President to urge him to provide a significant increase in the maximum Pell Grant award. It is clear that an increase is long overdue.  The median income of recipients eligible for this grant is a mere $15,200.  This level of income means that higher education would be beyond the reach of these families without assistance.  An increase in funding may very well be the deciding point in the futures of these individuals.


Think of the additional students who might be able to enter college and graduate with a degree, if only they could receive additional support from the Pell grant program.  This aid is targeted to the neediest of students who deserve a more promising future.  By opening the door to higher education we can ensure they have a better chance to participate fully in the American dream.  Higher education for Americans is the greatest investment we can make for our nation.