Fifty years ago, on June 23, 1972, President Richard Nixon signed the Education Amendments Act that created the Pell Grant, a form of need-based federal financial aid. This landmark legislation has enabled millions of U.S. students to pursue higher education and continues to create opportunities for improved social mobility while encouraging students to innovate and contribute to society in countless ways.
Unlike loans, which contribute to crippling student loan debt, students do not have to repay the Pell Grant awards. This is one of the best financial aid opportunities for students.
In the upcoming 2022-2023 academic year, the maximum Pell Grant awarded will be $6,895, a $400 increase from previous years. In Virginia, more than 128,000 students were awarded Pell Grants and the average award amount was roughly $4,000 for the 2020-21 academic year, according to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. The Pell Grant is the U.S. Department of Education’s primary need-based grant, with 51% of recipients having household incomes of less than $20,000.
At Old Dominion University, we pride ourselves on our commitment to opening doors for students who may not have considered college an option. Our student body includes more than 7,470 students who receive Pell Grants, accounting for 38.1% of the undergraduate population, which is higher than the national percentage of Pell recipients and the highest among Virginia’s research universities.
Pell Grants make college more accessible to students with lower family incomes and, as such, are closely related to social mobility. In higher education, social mobility is the practice of empowering students to graduate, which improves their lives as well as the trajectory of their families for future generations. In 2019, U.S. News and World Report added two measures of “social mobility” to their annual college rankings based on graduation rates for Pell Grant recipients.
ODU has been nationally ranked on the social mobility index since 2019. We are proud to house one of the only centers in the country focused on social mobility. The Center for Social Mobility focuses on sharing and developing strategies to expand access, affordability and completion in higher education.
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To achieve new milestones, the Monarch Nation continuously studies how we can be ready for our students and support them on their path to earning a college degree. Melvin Roy, a spring 2022 graduate and a former Pell Grant recipient, exemplifies how ODU champions social mobility. Roy came to ODU from the foster care system and is now interning in Congress. He shared:
“I spent four years of my life in the foster care system and always had that dream of attending a four-year institution. Being a recipient of the Pell Grant allowed my dreams to become a reality,” said Roy, who started Foster-U at ODU, which is an organization designed to help youth in foster care realize their higher education dreams.
While Pell Grants offer undeniable value, the funding has not kept up with the cost of higher education. In the 1980s, the maximum Pell Grant covered nearly 75% of university attendance costs at a public four-year institution. In the 2021-2022 academic year, the maximum Pell Grant covered only 29% of costs, illustrating how Pell Grants have not matched the increase in college cost and inflation. Closing the gap between Pell Grant award amounts and attendance costs would tremendously benefit students who have a dream of earning a college degree.
The good news is the 2023 federal budget offers the largest increase in a decade to the Pell Grant program. Additional funding increases beyond the $400 boost are needed, and we can all play a role by advocating for increased levels of Pell funding with legislative officials at the state and federal level.
Roy is one of many examples of students at ODU who have benefited from the positive impact of this funding. These grants help students reach the finish line and their ripple effect on social and economic mobility can be felt for generations.
I know this for a fact because — just like Roy and more…
News Read More: Opinion: 50 years Pell Grants, 50 years of higher ed support