UC Student Association Campaigns to Double the Pell Grant

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Photo Courtesy of Alexander Mils

Lauren Luna

Campus Beat Reporter

This past week, the UC Student Association (UCSA) advocated for their Double the Pell Grant Campaign by holding a press conference, a UCSA briefing to Congress members with UC President Michael V. Drake, a social media day of action, and a #DoublethePell Instagram live.

According to the California Student Aid Commission, the state has distributed 78,210 Pell Grant awards to UC students. The maximum award amount for the 2021-2022 school year is projected to be around $6,495 for the entire academic year.

In a virtual press conference, UCSA president Aidan Arasasingham, a fourth-year global studies major at UC Los Angeles (UCLA), explained: “at UC, more than 35 percent of all undergraduates receive Pell Grants. Within five years of graduating, the median income of Pell Grant recipients exceeds that of their families.” 

The Pell Grant generates a great deal of economic mobility for students in marginalized communities who do not share the same educational opportunities as the rest of the student population. 

The Pell Grant, founded in 1965, once covered 79 percent of public four-year institution expenses, which included tuition, housing, and other educational fees. Today, the Pell Grant only covers 28 percent of these academic expenses. When adjusted to UC Santa Barbara’s (UCSB) standard student expenses, even a person who receives the maximum Pell Grant amount would still need at least about $25,505 to be covered by other grants or student loans, wages, and personal savings. 

This disparity reflects how the increases in educational expenses over the past few decades have disproportionately exceeded increases in federal student aid. Similar disparities appear when comparing the modern minimum wage to college expenses. In 1980, students would have needed to work only 19 hours a week at minimum wage to afford both tuition and housing at UCSB. This year, some students would need to work more than 71 hours a week for the same amenities.

“Today, the Pell Grant only covers 28 percent of these academic expenses.”

To keep their expenses paid off, students often work exhausting hours while maintaining their academic careers. Some students, such as Rakia White, a transfer student from UC Berkeley, report feeling as though they cannot take full advantage of their academic experience while working and trying to finance school. 

“I felt like I couldn’t engage in my coursework as I wanted to because of all the work I was taking on,” explained White in an interview with the UC Press Room. Though the Pell Grant aims to make college more affordable, it is clear that it does not provide enough for students to have a well-balanced college life where their primary concern is their academics.

Because the monetary value of the Pell Grant has plummeted so significantly over the past decades, UCSA is collaborating with the UC Student Advocacy network; the National College Attainment Network; and most importantly, the UC system itself, in order to raise the grant amounts. 

“According to student testimonials from UCSA, the current Pell Grant is most helpful for low-income students who earn their primary educational funding from the Pell Grant.”

Many students use their financial aid funds to pay for basic living necessities. On a livestream conducted by UCSA, Courtney Linzner, a third-year student from UCLA, said that living costs consume nearly all of her federal aid.

“It’s so expensive to live in LA, and it’s not even accounted for in my [federal aid],” explained Linzner on the livestream. She believes that within federal aid packages, distributors should adjust award amounts according to the costs of living within the area surrounding the school. 

The campaign specifically calls for an incremental program to increase the Pell Grant amount for three years until the current amount is doubled. Amounts would rise to $8,663 in 2022, $10,831 in 2023, and finally $13,000 in 2024. 

Doubling the Pell Grant would cover nearly half of all student expenses if approved by Congress. According to student testimonials from UCSA, the current Pell Grant is most helpful for low-income students who earn their primary educational funding from the Pell Grant. 

According to Linzner, financial aid was the main determinant in her college of choice. As a first generation college student, her aid was instrumental in granting her, as well as other students from marginalized backgrounds, opportunities for education and growth. 

Courtesy of the NCAN website.

The UC website states that doubling the Pell Grant would not only help more students afford college and other related costs, but would also stimulate the economy. Broadening the Pell Grant amount would also encourage students, who may have declined college for financial reasons, to continue their academic ventures. Additionally, it would reduce loan debt, which often delays when students can buy houses, attend graduate school, or start their own businesses.

UCSA’s outreach efforts led to over a hundred tweets sent out to California representatives and, at the time of this article’s publication, over 5,000 signatures on their petition to Congress.

“The University of California has a longstanding record of investing in financial aid and student success,” said UC President Michael V. Drake in a press release on the UC website. “However, UC cannot do this alone. We need impactful, long-term support for students and for higher education across the country; we need Congress to double the Pell as a down payment on America’s future.”

For more information, visit the UC website’s Double the Pell Campaign page or sign the petition.