Pell Grants

The Pell Grant Program has been enormously successful in assuring access to college for our nation’s low-income undergraduates—assisting over 60 million 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 $5,845 for the 2016-17 award year. This support must be maintained and expanded.

Program improvements aimed at promoting student success and college completion also deserve support, particularly those that:

  • Provide for Pell Flex. NAICU has recommended replacing the current system of specific annual grant amounts, which gives more federal aid to those who take longer to graduate, with a new system that rewards completion. Under such a system, every undergraduate of similar need would have access to the same amount of Pell Grant aid, whether they take four, five, or six years (or the equivalent) to complete.
  • Provide Pell Grants for summer college attendance. This initiative, which would make Pell Grants available year-round, would serve as a means to promote innovation, increase college access and completion and improve time to degree.

Other related initiatives that are currently being discussed in Washington include efforts to provide Pell Grants for certain prisoners to reduce recidivism, and measures to extend Pell Grant eligibility to high schools students in dual enrollment programs. In addition, the Department of Education is conducting an experimental sites initiative to test expanded Pell Grant eligibility for alternative approaches to teaching and learning.


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.


Pell Grant Program At-a-Glance 

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.

The amount of the 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. The maximum grant is $5,845 for the 2016-17 award year. A student may receive Pell Grant assistance for a maximum of 12 semesters, or the equivalent.

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: Tim Powers:
  • For information on funding aspects of the Pell Grant program:Stephanie Giesecke: