July 30, 2021
The #DoublePell movement to increase the maximum Pell Grant – a federal subsidy to help eligible low-income students pay for college – will likely play out in the current budget reconciliation process. This week, Congress held a hearing on the Pell Grant, including current legislation to double the Pell Grant award. But the Double Pell narrative is misleading and will counterintuitively lead to rising college costs – at odds with its purported intent.
Instead of doubling Pell, policymakers should increase the annual Pell Grant award by $400 to a total of $6,895 and index the amount to inflation in the years ahead. This also places the onus on colleges and universities to sustain the purchasing power of the Pell Grant over time.
The Pell Grant Preservation and Expansion Act, introduced in June, would more than double the maximum annual Pell Grant award from $6,495 to $13,000 over the next five years; it also would shift the lifetime eligibility from 12 to 18 semesters or six to nine years. Thus, the push to double Pell effectively triples the current maximum lifetime award from about $39,000 to $117,000. Once the Pell Grant doubles, annual Pell spending will total at least $60 billion, but likely more because of a lengthier Pell lifetime eligibility period. This massive price tag is concerning, given our national debt is already $28 trillion and stands to jump to $123 trillion when given unfunded liabilities of entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare before accounting for new education responsibilities.