Pell grant awards may be permanently linked to tuition inflation

Ali Dade

On Feb. 9, President Obama asked Congress to permanently link Pell grant awards to inflation. He would be connected to one of the United States’ biggest college financial programs long after he left office if Congress were to approve the request.

Pell grants are awarded to low-income college students, and unlike loans, do not need to be paid back. Richard Liedtke, executive director of enrollment management, spoke out about the importance of Pell grants: “A little over one-third of our student body receives Pell grants, so it is very important for our students here at Washburn. For students to be able to have the opportunity to proceed along their educational journey, a Pell grant can be quite important to their ability to achieve and succeed.”

In this proposal, Obama wants to connect the two indefinitely and ensure mandatory funding. This mandatory funding is expected to cost about $33 billion over 10 years. The request is likely to be rejected by Republicans that are in charge of the House and Senate. Instead of accepting the inflation adjustment, they have proposed freezing the maximum amount that can be given to a student in the form of a Pell grant. Pell grants have been tied to inflation since 2013, but this arrangement is set to expire in 2017.

Kandace Mars, associate director of financial aid said: “Before 2013, essentially what would happen is that an amount would be set for an academic year, and usually that amount would stay at the same level for a few academic years before it would increase. Overall over the lifetime of that fund it’s continued to increase, but generally when that occurred was less frequent that it is now.”

If congress were to veto this, they would have to continually decide year-by-year how much should be made available to eligible students. Currently the maximum amount a student may receive is $5,815, meaning that, according to a study done by the nonprofit consumer group The Institute for College Access and Success, the maximum amount that can be received covers less than one-third of the in-state cost of attending a public four-year college. This is compared to 1980, where the maximum Pell grant that a student could receive covered about three-fourths of the cost to get a degree at a public college.

Whether the two become permanently linked or not, students who receive Pell grants will be directly affected by this.

“Having the Pell grants linked to inflation, essentially the value of that grant would go up allowing those students to have enough fund that they can use towards their college education as those costs increase,” said Mars. “This puts students who really need those additional supplementary funds at a disadvantage. We try to stay hopeful as financial aid administrators that Congress will remember the importance of higher education and the importance of these funds that help students. It would be a disadvantage if it goes in the direction that the fund isn’t increased, as the cost of education goes up. We could see students having to borrow more loans or look for different resources to help meet those costs.”