Pell Grant students are doing all they can. They deserve our support.
Rakia White is the first in her family to attend college. She began her university career at a community college in California before transferring as a junior to the University of California at Berkeley. While at community college, Rakia juggled three jobs, working as a nanny, receptionist and office manager. Yet her combined income still wasn’t enough to cover rent in the expensive Bay Area, and she found herself surfing the couch with friends just to get by.
Despite the challenges, Rakia persisted and was transferred to UC Berkeley in 2020. She was on track to succeed until the pandemic struck, when she lost the work-study job that held her. helped cover her costs of accommodation, food and books. She considered taking out student loans, but worried about debt, and instead decided to forgo loans to finance her education. Like many students in California and across the country, the high cost of living meant Rakia was struggling, both with her finances and her sanity. For a while, she slept in her car, where she often worried about how she would hold up academically and emotionally as she maintained a heavy 19-unit course load. She often stayed late on campus to access free Wi-Fi.
Rakia summarized her experience and that of many of her peers in a virtual briefing for members of Congress and their staff earlier this year. “I’m doing all I can, but I still don’t feel like quite,” she said.
Like Rakia, many students have seen their lives turned upside down by Covid-19. But the challenges they face are not new. The pandemic has exposed just how financially difficult it is for low-income students to pursue undergraduate studies, a situation that has worsened for decades.
One of the main drivers of the increased economic burden on students has been the federal government’s divestment in higher education. The Pell Grants Program is the primary vehicle used by the federal government to help low-income students pay for higher education. In the 1970s, the Pell Grant covered over 75% of an eligible student’s public university expenses; now it barely covers 28 percent.
Almost 7 million students rely on these scholarships each year to pay a portion of their tuition fees. But as the purchasing power of the Pell Scholarship declined, student borrowing increased to cover the difference. In 2020, student loan debt reached $ 1.7 trillion, the highest on record, with the average graduate holding more than $ 28,950 in debt.
California lawmakers and university leaders have committed significant resources to making a UC degree more affordable and ensuring that students can cover basic expenses like accommodation and food. The states Scholarship program provides $ 978 million to UC students, covering the tuition fees of nearly 78,000 low-income Californians. At the same time, UC is providing $ 782 million in institutional aid, two-thirds of which provide money for food, rent, books and other educational costs beyond tuition. And that investment pays off: UC students graduate with debt below the national average, $ 19,200. The federal government, by comparison, contributes about $ 438 million through the Pell Grant program.
UC is committed to providing students with the support they need, which is why we have joined the University of California Student Association (UCSA) in appeal to Congress double the maximum Pell grant amount by fiscal 2024 to $ 13,000. Momentum is spreading across the country, with a nationwide campaign led by the Double Pell Alliance, a coalition of higher education associations, organizations and advocacy groups pledges to double the maximum Pell grant ahead of the 50th anniversary of the program’s inception in June, urging Congress to act.
And our call is heard: Just a few months ago, a bill was introduced by the chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Work and Pensions, Senator Patty Murray (D- Wash.), House Education and Labor Committee chair, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wisc. , to double the Pell grant. The Pell Grant Preservation and Expansion Act of 2021 immediately increase the maximum Pell Grant to $ 1,475 for the 2022-2023 school year and extend Pell Grant eligibility to Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.
The University of California is proud to stand alongside these educational leaders and endorse this legislation, which, if enacted, would provide additional support to thousands of UC students and millions of students. low and middle income students across the country. At UC, since Cal Grants and UC Institutional Aid cover the tuition and fees for so many students, if Congress bolsters the annual Pell Grant award, students from UC could use more of their financial assistance to cover additional basic living costs and reduce housing and food insecurity, while borrowing less.
Rakia, meanwhile, has set herself a goal of graduating on time, attending graduate school, and one day running her own resource center to help those facing challenges similar to hers.
“I’m going to get things done, and I don’t care how long that takes,” she told federal lawmakers.
Students like Rakia have beaten all odds to get here, and they are determined to build a better future.
They deserve our support by passing the Pell Grant Preservation and Expansion Act of 2021.
Shawn Brick is the Executive Director of Student Financial Support at the Office of the President of the University of California.
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