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Doubling the Federal Pell Grant Program Is an Investment in Kansas’ Future

By Michael Schneider, President
McPherson College

As we move toward a post-pandemic economy, it’s time to send a strong reminder to Congress that economic rebound can be supported by increasing the maximum Pell Grant. #Double Pell – a national bipartisan movement to raise the per-person grant from its cap of $6,500 to $13,000 annually – would put a reasonably priced college education within reach of every American student and potentially eliminate their student debt.

When the Pell Grant program started in the 1970s, the grant could cover 75% of the cost of a public four-year institution, but today the maximum grant amount covers only 28% of the same costs, according to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU).

According to a NAICU survey, over 80% of Americans already support expanding the Pell Grant, including 77% of Republicans and 91% of Democrats. At McPherson College, one in three students is a Pell Grant recipient. Many of these students are concerned about graduating with student loans, so they have become a part of the McPherson College Student Debt Project, which is a college-funded program that combines financial literacy education, jobs, and mentorships to create a pathway for students to graduate debt-free. The college matches 25 cents for every dollar students contribute to their education, allowing them to pay for their education in real-time.

Nationwide, Pell Grants help nearly 7 million low- and moderate-income students attend and complete college annually. They are especially critical for students of color, with nearly 60 percent of Black students and roughly half of Native American, Alaska Native and Hispanic students receiving a Pell Grant each year.

But while we’re working to expand Pell Grants, let’s also take full advantage of the current Federal Pell Grant Program.

Here’s a crazy statistic: In 2021, more than 8,000 Pell-eligible high school seniors across Kansas left a staggering $35 million in aid on the table because they failed to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is the first step in determining Pell Grant eligibility as well as all other federal financial aid.

Last year, 53% of Kansas high school graduates failed to submit the FAFSA form, ranking Kansas a dismal 32nd in the nation for the rate of FAFSA completions. Maybe this is why Kansas ranks 29th in college graduation rates, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. We need to do better to ensure that high school seniors receive the student aid that will provide the financial support they need to graduate from college.

Although students can complete the FAFSA at any point during the year to receive Pell Grants, why put it off? Many Kansas colleges have April 1 financial aid deadlines, so I encourage students and families to take two easy steps to get their FAFSA completed:

First, Google “FAFSA” to find a quick link to apply. All you need is your 2020 tax return and a listing of your current assets. However, if you don’t have either of these readily available, you can estimate and submit, then make changes later. It takes less than an hour to complete the application.

Second, McPherson College – or any college, for that matter – will be more than happy to help you complete the form. Just call any college financial aid office, and staff can guide you through the FAFSA process.


Education Funding Fuels Economic Development

For the past 50 years, the Pell Grant has been second only to the GI Bill in terms of its impact on educational opportunity and economic progress. Doubling Pell gets more dollars to the students who need it most. With millions of jobs still vacant in healthcare, technology, and other knowledge-based sectors, we need to make higher education degrees more accessible. The future of our economy depends on maximizing every student’s potential.

I support government officials holding higher education accountable, as the business of education has become more complex over the years, adapting to a market that is less funded by the public. However, let’s not forget about the relationship education has with economic development. So often education and economic development are viewed politically as an either/or proposition. We either fund education or we fund economic development. It’s time that we start doing a better job connecting the two.

And we need to remember that most colleges are not high-priced public universities or elitist private colleges. Most of us in higher education have a mission to serve students with the goal to place students in the job market by providing affordable bachelor’s degrees, associate’s degrees as well as useful licensures and certificates. An investment in education gets more people into the workforce paying taxes, more teachers in our classrooms, more healthcare workers in our clinics, more entrepreneurs starting businesses and more executives to provide corporations the leadership they need to prosper.

Join me in asking the Kansas Congressional delegation to make an investment in America’s future by increasing Pell Grants. And, if you have a high school senior in your household – or know one among your friends and family – reach out to make sure they complete their FAFSA. The future of our communities, our state and our country will be better for having done both.