Blog: The Educated Reporter

Paying for Pell Grants: Statistics and Story Ideas

Recently, I covered an event at a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that pitted defenders and skeptics of the Pell Grant program against one another. The article can be found here at Ed Beat, but let’s distill the major topics and figures that were debated:

  • Between 2005 and 2008, total federal government commitments for Pell ranged from $13.869 billion to $17.34 billion.
  • Today, that figure is more than $36 billion.
  • The “Ryan” budget would like to limit Pell participation through family income caps, limits on part-time enrollment and eliminating automatic inflation growth triggers.
  • These and other efforts, like freezing the maximum award to its current $5,550, are estimated to save the government $2 billion annually, some experts say.
  • In the coming years, there’s a funding cliff for the Pell program. There are billions of dollars committed beyond what has been appropriated.

Some questions to consider:

  • What accounted for the doubling in the size of Pell from its pre-recession levels to now?
  • If federal programs like Title I and IDEA Part B have been returned to spending levels consistent with pre-stimulus levels, what is the defense for not doing the same to Pell? Is this a political or budgetary issue?
  • Is there any merit in Pell leading to college tuition prices rising faster than inflation? What’s the data on this, and how is Pell different from federal loan programs like Stafford in this regard? 


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