Biden Seeks Big Increase for Pell

But in president’s fiscal 2023 plan, there is no proposal for a free community college program.

March 29, 2022
President Biden

President Biden proposed a $2,175 increase in the maximum Pell Grant Monday in his budget proposal to Congress for fiscal 2023. That would bring the maximum annual Pell award to $8,670.

There is no guarantee the president will get what he’s asking for. And Republicans in Congress are already taking aim at the overall budget proposal. Although the Pell increase is expected to be popular (even with some Republicans), it likely will get caught up in the larger debates about federal spending. The Democrats have an advantage in pushing appropriations bills: they do not need Republican support to do so. However, that is only true if they capture every Democratic vote in the Senate, which has proved difficult to do.

And it will be hard for Biden to achieve another big goal—cutting the federal deficit by $1 trillion over a decade—and also to find money for his spending priorities.

Nonetheless, Pell Grants remain high on his list.

“Pell Grants have been the foundation of low- and moderate-income students’ financial aid for decades,” the Education Department briefing book on the budget proposal said. “However, the value has diminished as college costs continue to rise … This historic increase is a significant down payment on the president’s commitment to doubling the grant.”

The budget proposal would permit 6,657,000 low-income students to receive Pell Grants, in 2022-23, up from 6,133,000 this year.

The president also proposed increases for a series of programs at historically Black colleges and for other minority-serving institutions.

“To foster more and better opportunities in higher education for communities that are often underserved, the request provides $1.1 billion in discretionary and mandatory funding to expand capacity at institutions of higher education that serve high proportions of students of color,” the budget book said.

Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, praised President Biden for proposing the increase.

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“This would be a substantial down payment on the president’s promise to double the maximum Pell Grant, a proven and effective program which helps roughly seven million moderate- and low-income students gain access to postsecondary education each year. And it recognizes the singular importance of HBCUs, [tribal colleges, Hispanic-serving institutions] and other minority-serving institutions and the need to correct existing inequities in higher education.”

However, Mitchell noted that the budget proposal included no increases for work-study and the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant.

“ACE and the higher education community will be working with Congress and the administration to show why further increases in those programs are necessary and represent wise investments in the nation’s human capital,” he said.

David Baime, senior vice president for government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges, said, “The Pell Grant increase represents a dramatic commitment to community college student success—one out of every three community college students receives a grant.”

President Biden did not propose a free college program, as he did last year.

“The administration has indicated that it remains committed to free community college, and that goal is shared by our members across the country,” Baime said.

Jee Hang Lee, president and CEO of the Association of Community College Trustees, said in a statement that while “the budget request supports students on their goals through a generous increase to the maximum Pell Grant award,” it is “a missed opportunity to press Congress on free community college by providing a budgetary proposal to achieve this goal. Meanwhile, these direct investments in our community college systems, many of which are competitive grants, are a small down-payment on the investment previously proposed for our institutions to support all students nationwide.”

Other Education Department Spending

The budget plan would also:

  • Provide $2.65 billion to the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA), an $800 million increase compared to the 2021 enacted level. The additional funding is needed, the department said, “to better serve students and borrowers as they finance their postsecondary education and at every stage of repayment. Specifically, the increase allows FSA to implement customer service and accountability improvements to student loan servicing and ensure the successful transition from the current short-term loan servicing contracts to a more stable long-term contract and servicing environment.” (A big issue for Biden in the coming month is whether to extend a freeze on student loan repayments that has been in effect through the pandemic.)
  • Create a new grant program to “reimagine” the transition from high school to college. “Reimagining traditional educational pathways to improve equitable opportunities is a critical component of the president’s vision to increase successful outcomes for all students. The budget provides an additional $200 million investment focused on a new Career-Connected High Schools initiative to support competitive grants to partnerships of local educational agencies, institutions of higher education, and employers to increase the integration and alignment of the last two years of high school and the first two years of postsecondary education, in order to improve postsecondary and career outcomes for all students, including students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.”
  • Continue to support expanding the Pell Grant so it will cover Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, undocumented students commonly known as Dreamers.
  • Continue support for the TRIO and GEAR UP programs with significant budget increases. The total provided for TRIO would go to $1,297,000 from $1,097,000 this year.
  • Continue to support, at $69.4 million—the same level provided by Congress over the last two years— international education and foreign language studies.
  • Increase support for the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights by $161 million, a 23 percent increase. “This additional funding would ensure that the department has the capacity to protect equal access to education through the enforcement of civil rights laws, such as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.”
  • Provide $560 million for the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, up from $41 million the last two years. Among other goals for FIPSE is $110 million is for the Retention and Completion Grant program, which would provide competitive grants to states and higher education systems and colleges “to implement or expand evidence-based, institutional level retention and completion reforms that improve student outcomes.”
  • Provide $311 million to Howard University, an increase from $251 million this year. The university would use $50 million on its hospital.

“This budget proposal is a significant step in the right direction to expand access to postsecondary education to more low- and middle-income students and restore some of the purchasing power of the Pell Grant,” said Justin Draeger, CEO and president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. “We also applaud the president’s calls to improve customer service for federal student loan borrowers.”

Other Agencies

The proposed budget has plenty to offer for agencies supporting research, but the size of the increases was not as astronomical as it was last year.

The president proposed $48,957,000,000, an increase of about $4.3 billion, for the National Institutes of Health, and $10.5 billion for the National Science Foundation, an increase of 18.7 percent from the agency’s current budget.

The funding at the NSF includes $1.5 billion to accelerate research and development in climate change and clean energy and  $393 million to fund programs aimed at broadening the participation in science and engineering of groups that are underserved and underrepresented in these fields.

Mitchell, of ACE, is optimistic congressional lawmakers will support the increase in research funding.

“We believe that lawmakers will understand the importance of going beyond the administration’s budget proposals in the areas of scientific and medical research,” he said. “We look forward to working with the administration and Congress as these proposals are turned into detailed legislative language and advance through the appropriations process.”

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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