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Saturday, July 31, 2021

The UC Student Association calls on Congress to double maximum value of Pell Grant

Students say the pandemic and increased housing insecurity have contributed to the need to increase the grant, which provides aid to many UC Davis students

The UC Student Association, in partnership with the UC, has launched the Double the Pell campaign as part of a nationwide effort calling upon Congress and the Biden administration to double the maximum amount of the Pell Grant. The main goal of the campaign is to raise the Pell Grant’s current maximum of $6,495 to $13,000 by 2024. 

The Pell Grant is an essential way for low-income students to secure access to higher education at an affordable cost, with more than 7 million recipients, including 78,000 UC undergraduates, according to a UC Davis press release

A petition that circulated during the campaign’s week of action starting on Feb. 22 resulted in 1,000 signatures in just one day, according to Maria Martinez, the external affairs vice president of Associated Students of UC Davis (ASUCD).

“That definitely shows that our campus cares about the Pell Grant and was involved with the campaign at the early stages,” Martinez said. 

The Double the Pell campaign began with a week of action hosted by the UC Student Association. The first day kicked off with a panel in partnership with the UC Davis government relations team. Many nationwide student organizations joined the panel as well.

The grant has long aided student’s social mobility. According to the press release, the median income of Pell Grant recipients exceeded their family income within five years of graduation, and 1 in 3 UC alumni with families in the bottom 20% of income rose to the top 20% as adults. 

Aidan Arasasingham, a fourth-year global studies major at UCLA and president of the UC Student Association, said that despite the Pell Grant being able to cover 75% of the expenses of a four-year college student in 1980, today it only covers 28%. 

 Andrew Nickins, the vice president of legislative affairs for the Student Senate for California Community Colleges, said during the panel that the California community college system has experienced a 10% drop in enrollment statewide and up to 20% in some districts. 

“When students graduate with enormous debt they put off taking a risk on a dream job, starting families, purchasing homes and making other significant investments in our economy,” Arasasingham said. “This pandemic, [which] has upended the financial stability of students and their families, has only exacerbated this by making American higher education dramatically less attainable for millions of Americans.”

  As higher education tuition costs rise and students navigate financial losses during the COVID-19 pandemic, many student advocates said they feel the current maximum isn’t enough to cover costs of tuition and basic needs. 

“As cost of living rises, the affordability of education is threatened,” Nickins said. 

Bryce Regian, the vice president of federal affairs for the Washington Student Association, emphasized the grant’s ability to retain students and help them graduate. 

“We know from research that financial aid has a positive correlation on both college enrollment and retainment,” Regian said. “Even just 1,000 dollars worth of aid from grants has been shown to increase enrollment by four percentage points and persistence by two percentage points.” 

Cal State Student Association President Giun Liu said in the California State University (CSU) system, 230,000 students rely on the Pell Grant, making up half of the CSU student population. Currently, 42% of CSU students experience food insecurity and 11% are homeless. 

 “Grant-based financial aid improves the enrollment, retainment and completion for low-income students and students of color,” Regian said.

Martinez, who is also a Pell Grant recipient, emphasized the grant’s ability to help the most impacted students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I wouldn’t have been able to come to Davis without it and I know that’s the case for [a lot] of people,” Martinez said. “In the middle of COVID-19 everyone is facing financial problems even more, so doubling the Pell Grant would not only help people attend university, but secure their basic needs.”

Victor Chavez-Gonzales, the vice president of Associated Students at Portland State University and part of the executive committee for the Oregon Student Association, is also a Pell Grant recipient and recognizes the help it has given him to succeed. 

“It’s proven to be the key of many students’ lives,” Chavez-Gonzales said.

Student advocates are continuing to remind students, faculty and Congress of the grant’s initial goal for being established. 

“The federal government made a commitment to students in establishing the Pell Grant program with the intent of allowing any student, regardless of their financial means, access to higher education,” Arasasingham said. “Restoring the grant’s purchasing power to its original value would honor that commitment.”

Written by: Annette Campos — campus@theaggie.org 

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