The Pell Grant program turns 50 on June 23. It works with other financial aid programs like the Washington College Grant to help students get into, stay in and complete education after high school.

Pell was key for each of us as we made our way to and through college (one of us earned an undergraduate degree 41 years ago and the other graduates this month). We may be generations apart but a singular investment from the federal government ties us, and together we urge our Washington, D.C., leaders to boost funding toward doubling the Pell Grant maximum. For the coming school year, the Pell Grant maximum is $6,895. The proposal is to increase that to $13,000.

Pell unlocked our futures, and it can do the same for others. You may see your story in ours:

As a senior in high school, Diane lived with a single mother and two younger siblings, while two older siblings separately struggled with figuring out how to pay for college. She had always planned to go to college, but her path was uncertain. It was such a relief to receive a financial aid package that included a Pell Grant that allowed her to start and finish at Gonzaga University.

Decades later, the Pell Grant also made Leihla’s higher education journey possible. Throughout college, she faced financial and medical hardships. While she worked part-time and cared full-time for her mom, the Pell Grant provided much-needed financial relief to attend and persist at Seattle University, ensuring her the possibility of academic and professional success.

Pell Grants — called the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant when first approved in 1972 — provided funds based on need directly to students living on low incomes to help pay for post-high school education. Since then Pell Grants have helped some 80 million Americans pay for college. We are heartened to see increasing bipartisan support in Congress for significantly increasing the maximum grant. The pandemic made clear the serious need for additional grant aid for students furthest from opportunity to stay in school and complete their college degrees.

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Expanding Pell Grants will provide the extra financial support that will allow students to access the college or training program that best fits their educational needs. Last year alone, Pell Grants provided almost $360 million to make college possible for nearly 90,000 Washington students from low-income backgrounds and those who are the first in their families to pursue postsecondary education. The impact this program has had on the lives of individuals and their families, and the economic health and competitiveness of our state, and indeed the nation, is without parallel. We are proof.

Boosting funding is an investment in the future of our nation and our citizens, and an effective and proven way to break the cycle of generational poverty. Pell Grants help make the dream of college possible for students, and with a college degree come higher incomes and greater assurance for positive health outcomes and quality of life.

As we celebrate the legacy of Pell in our own lives, we urge our nation’s leaders to double the maximum Pell Grant for the students to follow. It will make all the difference.