October 13, 2021

Eisgruber, College Leaders Urge Congress: Double Pell Grants for Low-Income Students

By Donald Gilpin

Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber and Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway, along with 42 other New Jersey higher education leaders, have sent a letter to New Jersey’s congressional delegation calling for a doubling of the maximum Pell Grant to help students from low- and middle-income families to meet college expenses.

“Doubling the maximum Pell Grant will help more students from low- and middle-income families to get to and through college,” states the letter co-authored by Eisgruber and Holloway. “That helps everyone: by cultivating talent from every sector of society, we make our state, and our country, stronger and better.”

Members of Congress, including two U.S. senators and the 12 delegates representing New Jersey in the House of Representatives, are currently in the process of developing and voting on a budget reconciliation package.

The current maximum Pell Grant award is $6,495. When it was enacted in 1972, the Pell Grant covered nearly 80 percent of the cost of attending a public four-year college, but now the Pell covers less than 30 percent of the cost.

“It is time for a dramatic recalibration of this vital program to restore the promise of Pell to make college possible for the next generation of postsecondary students,” the letter states. 

Princeton University Spokesperson Ben Chang emphasized, “A college education is, as President Eisgruber has said, a rocket-booster for students from low-income and middle-income families. Princeton strongly supports the doubling of the maximum federal Pell Grant because it will help more of these students get the educations they deserve, and it will enable our college campuses and our country to benefit from the talent they bring.”

More than 150,000 students in New Jersey and almost 7 million nationwide receive Pell Grants each year, according to the college leaders’ letter, “including a clear majority of Black students and about half of Latinx students currently enrolled in college.”

The letter notes that many potential recipients do not even apply for the Pell Grant, because they believe that a college education is beyond their means. “Pell is a proven program,” the letter continues, “and in combination with other federal aid, state aid, and institutional grants, has provided millions of low-income students a wide array of post-secondary opportunities at both two- and four-year colleges and universities.”

Eisgruber wrote in a July 30 blog post, “One of my highest priorities is to increase the number of low-income and middle-income students getting college degrees, both at Princeton and nationally.” Princeton University provides extensive financial aid to its undergraduates, but many other college students rely on the Pell Grant and other federal and state aid.

Emphasizing the “life-changing” value of a college education for the state’s young people, the letter continues, “It is exciting and gratifying to see that Congress and the president have been considering ways to help make college more affordable. A college degree is a hugely important tool of social mobility that opens a wide range of opportunities for careers that can transform the lives of students and their families, in addition to propelling economic prosperity and job growth.”