Celebrating Success: 40 Years of Pell Grants

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

Chances are you know someone who wouldn’t have gone to college without the help of a Pell Grant. Since 1972, more than 60 million Americans have received financial assistance to earn their degree.  

As President Obama said in a message commemorating the 40th anniversary of the enactment of this program:

Forty years ago, our Nation codified a commitment to bringing higher education within reach for every American by creating the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant—later renamed the Federal Pell Grant after Senator Claiborne Pell, to honor his efforts in creating the program.  On this anniversary, we reflect on four decades of progress toward fulfilling that fundamental promise and rededicate ourselves to making college affordable for all.

Federal Pell Grants have helped millions of Americans achieve their fullest potential by not only opening the doors to college, but also providing students the financial support necessary to complete their studies and prosper in today’s economy.  That is why my Administration has prioritized Pell Grants as a source of funding they can count on each and every year.  We have provided resources to support a 50 percent increase in Pell Grant recipients, giving college access to millions of additional students across our country; aggressively raised the maximum Pell Grant award to keep pace with rising costs; and strengthened the Pell Grant Program by cutting banks out of Federal student lending and delivering financial aid directly to students.  By continuing to provide grants that extend educational opportunity to students, we make critical investments both in their personal success and in America’s success in the 21st century.

As we mark the 40th Anniversary of the Federal Pell Grant Program, we also celebrate the individuals and organizations who have worked to widen the circle of opportunity for countless Americans through higher education.  Today and tomorrow, let us recommit to empowering the next generation with the tools and resources they need to achieve their dreams.  I am confident that, through programs like Pell Grants, our Nation will reach our goal of once again leading the world in college completion by the year 2020.

Senator Claiborne Pell, the chief sponsor of the program, liked to say, ‘Any student with the talent, desire, and drive, should be able to pursue higher education.’ Because of his commitment and vision, millions of students from poor and working class backgrounds received the economic lifeline they need to earn a college degree. The Pell Grant program has literally transformed millions of lives.

In today’s global economy that’s more important than ever. High school graduation is no longer a path leading to a good paying job. College, or other postsecondary training, has never been more important to finding meaningful and substantial employment.

More students than ever are relying on Pell grants, and if we are to reach our goal of out-innovating, out-educating and out-building the rest of the world, we need to continue our investment in Pell.

Arne Duncan is the US Secretary of Education


  1. I am a 38 year old female, that has receive a kidney transplant in 2008. I have been looking for work, but could not find nothing to pay for the high prescription I have to take. Well, I decide to returning back to school to be a social worker. After, reading about this new law I will not be able to finish school and get the career I need so I can pay for my medicines. So, what do I suppose to do know? Thank you an advanced concern student.

    P.S. Vocational Rehabilitation. is paying for my school, but I need to pell grants award letter to take to them every year.

  2. Of those who actually receive Pell Grant money, what percent actually graduate with a degree and are sucessfully employed? What are the success rates? Thanks.

  3. Happy 40th! I succeeded in college because of the basic educational opportunity grant. The article forgot to mention TRiO programs, formed during this same time period and a strong partner of the Pell program. TRiO provides information on how to access the Pell grant, fill out applications, access college prepared, graduate high school, and more. Strong TRiO support + Pell grants = success. #TRiOworks TRiO programs include High School Upward Bound, Talent Search, Educational Opportunity Centers, McNair Scholars, Veterans Upward Bound, Student Support Services, Math Science Upward Bound, and TRiO Training grants.

    Low income, first generation to attend college adults and youth need an investment of time and support to actualize the dream of pursuing college and the investment in Pell. We get a far higher return if students have both Pell and TRiO.

  4. Through increased education access for the imprisoned, Education from the Inside Out (EIO) Coalition is working to help diminish the system of mass incarceration. We seek to see the restoration of Pell grants, Tapp grants (in NY), and the proliferation of all educational experiences to provide the greatest opportunity for successful reentry as well as promoting more humane carceral conditions. Please take a moment to watch our video and consider signing our petition:
    Campaign Video: http://bit.ly/EIOVideo
    Change.org Petition: http://chn.ge/EIOPell

  5. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 60 percent of the 700,000 people leaving prison this year will be rearrested within 3 years of release: but there is hope. Numerous studies have shown that the more education an incarcerated person receives, the more likely s/he will not return to prison. If a person has earned a BA while in prison, the likelihood that s/he will recidivate is reduced to 12%. Furthermore, for people who earn a Master’s Degree, the average recidivism rate is below one percent. Sing Sing’s (a maximum security men’s prison in upstate
    NY) recidivism rate is almost zero among the hundreds of men who have graduated from college. College is expensive, but a year in most prisons costs more than triple what a year in a state college would cost. If a person comes out of prison with an education, the overwhelming likelihood is that that person will not go back to prison, and will help others to avoid crime and incarceration. Why not make accessibility to higher education in prison a no brainer? Pell Grants were available to incarcerated students prior to 1994 and there is U.S. Department of Education research to corroborate reduced recidivism rates. There are almost 2 1/2 million people in our
    prisons. My father, Claiborne Pell, understood the importance of higher education in prison, he knew that once a person educated him/herself, the likelihood of returning to prison was dramatically reduced, thus the chance of further victimization is also reduced. Reinstating Pell Grants into prisons is not being soft on crime; rather it is just plain smart for society. Providing educational opportunities for those in prison has proved to be one of the most effective tools we have to make our communities safer. The statistics are overwhelming. The goal of the Education from the Inside Out (EIO) Coalition is to make higher education available to all those who seek it. My father once said, “The strength of the U.S. is not the gold at Ft. Knox or the weapons of mass destruction that we have, but the sum total of the education and the character of our people”. – Dallas Pell

  6. Under current law, prison systems seeking to provide postsecondary education as part of their rehabilitation programs face a significant resource limitation: since 1994, incarcerated persons are banned from receiving Federal Pell Grants. For 40 years, the goal of the Pell Grant program has been to provide need-based assistance to students to promote access to higher education. Funding flows directly to the educational institution, and eligibility for aid is based on student need and expected family contribution. Pell Grants are available to anyone who qualifies; thus, removing the barrier to eligibility for incarcerated persons does not diminish the opportunity of any other eligible student to receive aid. It simply ensures that all qualified low-income students who are motivated to pursue higher education have equal access to aid. Institutions of higher education often work with prisons to provide on-site educational programs, allowing a select portion of the population, namely motivated individuals with a high school diploma or GED, to participate in college classes and work toward earning a college degree. The 1994 elimination of eligibility for Pell Grants for the incarcerated was a severe blow to postsecondary correctional education programs. Without funding, community colleges, colleges and universities withdrew from the correctional education market. According to a 1997 study, within three years of the ban’s enactment, the number of prison higher education programs dropped from 350 to 8 nationally. In 2004, a nationwide survey of prison systems found that postsecondary correctional education was available only to about five percent of the overall prison population. Because postsecondary education is so closely linked to employment prospects, the very restricted access to educational opportunities for inmates makes overcoming employment and reintegration obstacles after release significantly more difficult. With U.S. recidivism rates hovering above 60%, erecting barriers to reentry is counter to the public interest.

  7. My concern is that I received an e-mail notice stating that I will not receive a Pell grant for 2012- 2013 because the new limit is 6 years. I am almost in my Nursing Clinicials and now I want be able to receive a Pell- Grant because of the new Law. Please tell me that you are not cutting my dream of being a RN short. I am 52 years old and I really need the support from this program. Lots of people will be affected by this new law. Please take into consideration to help me fulfill my dream.
    Please dont put a limit on the Program/ The Dream.
    I will be praying for a change.

    Thank You

  8. My undergraduate and graduate education benefitted from a variety of funding sources, including, work study, loans, grants, and many part-time jobs. The Pell Grant was a significant part of that funding, and a lifeline from poverty to access and completion of a college degree. It continues to be an investment in the educational and economic infrastructure of our country, and affords students from the lowest incomes an avenue to pursue careers and contribute to the upkeep of society. This avenue must remain a viable option to students who have the academic fortitude, but would otherwise be financially unable to receive a post-secondary education.

  9. The Good Force be with you!
    Happy 40th Anniversary Pell Grant! More success for your wonderful program!
    Live forever and prosper!

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