Building a Campaign to Double Pell

Messages are being sent to lawmakers daily, and #DoublePell posts can be found all over social media. But the campaign is just getting started.

August 5, 2021
 
Double Pell Alliance
The alliance is encouraging students and stakeholders to share graphics like this one on social media.

The Double Pell Alliance launched its #DoublePell campaign and website in early July, but its work is only beginning. This fall, once college students return to campuses and Congress returns to Washington after its August recess, the alliance is going to ramp up its efforts to get the maximum Pell Grant award doubled by the program’s 50th anniversary next year.

Congressional leadership is expected to focus on the appropriations process and a budget reconciliation package for President Biden’s American Families Plan in the coming months. Both are legislative vehicles that could lead to substantial increases for the Pell Grant program -- the House appropriations bill includes a $400 increase to the maximum, while Biden’s plan proposes a $1,400 increase.

Launching the campaign in July, right before lawmakers take a break until after Labor Day, was a very intentional action, said Terry Hartle, senior vice president for government relations and public affairs at the American Council on Education.

“What we wanted to do was put the most basic building block of this campaign -- which is the website and the social media networks -- in place to allow them to function before we make extensive efforts to generate traffic this fall,” Hartle said.

Those efforts will largely be focused on getting information out to Pell Grant recipients, their families and other stakeholders and arming them with the resources to contact their members of Congress, asking them to support a doubling of the Pell Grant. That can be done directly from the campaign’s website, alongside options to boost the campaign on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Barbara Mistick, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, said the goal is to reach representatives in all 435 congressional districts.

The alliance and campaign began as a follow-up to a letter sent to members of Congress in March by nearly 1,200 organizations, in which they urged them to double the maximum Pell Grant. The signers noted that the grants -- which help low- and moderate-income students attend two- and four-year institutions using funding that doesn’t have to be repaid -- are especially critical for students of color but cover the lowest share of college costs in the program’s history. That means Pell Grant recipients disproportionately bear student debt burdens, with them being twice as likely as other students to have student loans.

“Following up on that letter, we were really looking to figure out what comes next and how we could keep engagement high around this really important issue,” said Lindsey Tepe, director of governmental affairs at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.

Some organizations were already advocating for doubling the Pell Grant long before the letter was sent and the alliance was formed. UNCF has been talking to policy makers about it for at least three years, said Lodriguez Murray, vice president of public policy and government affairs. The organization represents private historically Black colleges and universities, where 75 percent of students are Pell Grant eligible. But when they were pushing for doubling Pell alone, they weren’t getting the engagement that the campaign is getting now.

“We joined the coalition because it helps to amplify the message,” Murray said. “We're satisfied to know that we're on the right side of policy, but it's good to see these other organizations join in.”

The number of partners in the campaign is growing weekly, representing all types of students and institutions beyond the six organizations that represent colleges and universities. Other organizations that are a part of the alliance include the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, the National College Attainment Network, and the National Young Farmers Coalition.

In addition to growing the alliance, messages are being sent from the website to congressional offices every day. And the American Association of State Colleges and Universities is focusing its current engagement efforts on collecting student stories for the “Pell Voices” portion of the website, where Pell Grant recipients can share how they’ve achieved academic success because of the program, said Luis Maldonado, vice president for government relations and policy analysis.

“We need to put a face to the issue, and there's no more powerful voice right now on this issue than the students themselves,” Maldonado said.

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The alliance plans to measure the success of the campaign in a variety of ways, including website engagement, the number of messages sent to members of Congress and, of course, how much progress is made toward doubling the Pell Grant. The conversation in Congress has already shifted considerably -- the Pell Grant Preservation and Expansion Act of 2021, introduced in June, would double the Pell Grant to $13,000 by the 2027-28 award year. A previous iteration of that bill in the 115th Congress proposed increasing the maximum award by only $500.

And while the alliance would be satisfied with incremental increases to the maximum award, its advocacy won’t be complete until Pell is doubled.

“We think an $1,800 down payment is a good start, but we obviously want to get to double,” Maldonado said. “I think success will be when we actually achieve it. Anything of significance in Congress tends to be a multi-Congress process. We are fully committed to this, and we will continue to push for this as long as it takes for us to achieve the goal.”

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