Pell Grants

The Pell Grant Program has been successful in assuring access to college for our nation’s low-income undergraduates—assisting millions of students since its inception. The program’s focus on college access for low-income students, and its role as the foundation on which other federal financial aid is built, must be maintained.

The highest priority for the program is ensuring adequate funding. Through a combination of appropriated and mandatory funds, the total maximum grant is $6,495 for the 2021-22 award year. This support must be maintained and expanded to increase the amount of resources to finance a postsecondary education for low- and middle-income students.

More specifically, NAICU believes that the Pell Grant amount should be doubled to increase the ability of students to finance their postsecondary education, especially low-income students. In an effort to increase the amount of Pell Grant funds available to students, NAICU has proposed a Pell Plus proposal that would allow all eligible students to have access to their 12 semester Pell Grant amount to incentivize them to graduate in four academic years.


On December 27, 2020, President Trump signed H.R. 133, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, into law that housed the FAFSA Simplification Act of 2020. The FAFSA Simplification Act modifies the Pell Grant program and creates a new formula for determining the Pell Grant amount. This bill goes into effect on July 1, 2023.
More specifically, the FAFSA Simplification Act establishes new Pell eligibility guidelines using three variables to determine a student’s eligibility for the total maximum or minimum Pell Grant: (1) income; (2) family size; and (3) family type. While using these variables, a student can receive the following Pell Grant awards.

  • Maximum Pell Grant: The maximum Pell Grant will be awarded to a student if they are not required to file a federal income tax return and the student, or the dependent student’s parent, is considered a single parent with an adjusted gross income equal to or less than 225% of the poverty line. If not considered as a single parent, the adjusted gross income must be equal to or less than 175% of the poverty line to qualify for a maximum Pell Grant.
  • Minimum Pell Grant: A student shall be eligible for a minimum Pell Grant when the student is enrolled in an eligible program full-time and their adjusted gross income is either equal to or less than (1) 325% or 275% of the poverty line for a dependent student subject family type or (2) 400%, 350%, or 275% of the poverty line for an independent student subject to family type.
  • Any Pell Grant Amount: A student can qualify for a Pell Grant if they are enrolled full-time in an eligible program and their Student Aid Index (SAI), formerly known as the Expected Family Contribution, is less than the total maximum Pell Grant amount for that award year. A student is able to receive a maximum Pell Grant award if their SAI is equal to zero or less.  If a student is unable to receive a maximum or minimum Pell Grant amount due to their SAI, then the Secretary is required to subtract from their, or their parent(s), adjusted available income (1) any grant or scholarship aid reported on an income tax return and (2) income earned from work through the Federal Work-Study program.

Students are allowed to receive Pell Grants for the summer semesters and the award will become available for incarcerated students for Academic Year 2023-2024.


The Pell Grant program was created to provide opportunity for students who lacked the means to afford college. Serving as the “foundation” federal student aid program, Pell Grants have successfully enabled our nation’s low-income undergraduates to obtain higher education. As such, the program has enjoyed broad bipartisan support in Congress.

Because the structure of the program is fundamentally sound, ensuring adequate funding for grants remains the top legislative priority, and NAICU is very supportive of efforts to double the Pell Grant award.

.The amount of the Pell Grant depends on a student’s financial need, status as a full-time or part-time undergraduate student, and whether attendance is for the entire academic year. A student may receive Pell Grant assistance for a maximum of 12 semesters, or the equivalent.



The program was created in the Higher Education Amendments of 1972, and the first grant was awarded in 1973. The program began as the Basic Education Opportunity Grant, but was renamed after Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI) in 1982.

Because the Pell Grant program is the “foundation” federal student aid program, students must apply for a Pell Grant before their eligibility for other federal student aid programs is determined.

The maximum Pell Grant award is established by Congress for each academic year, Although the award levels have increased over time, grant awards have not seen much growth in constant dollars, and the percentage of the cost of attendance they cover has decreased.

In the News


NAICU Washington Updates

What You Can Do

  • Contact your Senators and Representatives to emphasize the importance of the Pell Grant program to your institution and your students. Thank them for their past support, and request their continued help.
  • Use your NAICU data sheets to cite the importance of Pell Grants to your institution.
  • Identify success stories of Pell Grant students.
  • Encourage their support of Pell Flex and year-round Pell initiatives.

 NAICU Contacts

  • For information on programmatic aspects of the Pell Grant program: Justin Monk:
  • For information on funding aspects of the Pell Grant program: Stephanie Giesecke: