Sunday, August 7, 2022

Opinion: 50 Years Pell Grant, 50 Years High Ed Support

Fifty years ago, on June 23, 1972, President Richard Nixon signed the Education Amendment Act, which created the Pell Grant, a form of need-based federal financial aid. This landmark law has enabled millions of American students to pursue higher education and continues to create opportunities for better social mobility while encouraging students to innovate and contribute to society in countless ways.

Unlike loans, which contribute to crippling student loan debt, students are not required to repay 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, an increase of $400 from previous years. In Virginia, more than 128,000 students were awarded Pell Grants and the average award amount for the 2020-21 academic year was approximately $4,000, according to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. The Pell Grant is the primary need-based grant from the US Department of Education, with 51% of recipients having a household income of less than $20,000.

At Old Dominion University, we take pride in our commitment to opening doors to students who may not have considered college an option. Our student body includes more than 7,470 students who receive Pell grants, which is 38.1% of the undergraduate population, which exceeds the national percentage of Pell recipients and is the highest among Virginia’s research universities.

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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 graduate students to improve their lives as well as the trajectory of their families for generations to come. In 2019, US 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 ranked nationally in the Social Mobility Index since 2019. We are proud to be 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 fulfillment in higher education.

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To achieve new milestones, Monarch Nation continually studies how we can prepare 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, gives an example of how ODU champions social mobility. Roy came to ODU from Foster Care System and is now doing internship in Congress. they shared:

“I spent four years of my life in the foster care system and always dreamed of attending a four-year institution. Being a recipient of a Pell Grant helped make my dreams come true,” said Roy, who fostered at ODU -U, an organization created to help youth realize their dreams of higher education.

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While Pell grants offer undeniable value, funding has not kept up with the cost of higher education. In the 1980s, the maximum Pell Grant covered approximately 75% of the university’s attendance cost at a public four-year institution. In the 2021-2022 academic year, the maximum Pell Grant covered only 29% of costs, showing how Pell grants have not been able to match increased college costs and inflation. Closing the gap between Pell Grant prize money and attendance costs would greatly benefit students who dream of earning a college degree.

The good news is that the federal budget for 2023 provides the biggest increase in a decade to the Pell Grant program. Additional funding increases beyond the $400 stimulus are needed, and we can all play a part by advocating for increased levels of Pell funding with legislative officials at the state and federal levels.

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 — like Roy and more than 128,000 other Virginia students who received Pell grants last year — I also relied on Pell grants to finish college.

Don Stansberry, Ph.D.He is the Vice President of Student Engagement and Enrollment Services at Old Dominion University and leads the areas of student engagement, student success, enrollment services and institutional research.

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