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NEA on Student Aid: Help More Low-Income Students Attend College




NEA supports increasing the Pell Grant maximum award and shifting the balance of federal aid from loans to grants to help more low-income students attend and finish college.

  • Access to higher education opportunities allows individuals to succeed in jobs with career potential and upward mobility. Higher education is the stepping stone out of poverty for many Americans. It is estimated that a person with a college degree will earn 50 percent more over his or her lifetime than someone with a high school diploma.
  • Expanding postsecondary education opportunities also helps ensure the well-educated workforce our nation needs to compete in the 21st century. Ensuring and expanding access to higher education is particularly important given the continuing rise in college tuition and the increasing difficulty for low-income families to afford a college education.
  • Since their inception 40 years ago, Pell Grants have enabled millions of disadvantaged students, most of them first-generation college students, to attend postsecondary institutions and earn degrees. These individuals have gone on to make extraordinary contributions to our society.
  • Unfortunately, while tuition at higher education institutions has continued to rise far faster than the cost of living, the maximum Pell Grant award has remained virtually constant. With a maximum of just over $4,000 and an average amount of $2,400 per student, Pell Grants no longer provide enough assistance for working families to pay for college.
  • The relative balance among various kinds of federal student aid has shifted over time. While in the 1970s the ratio of grants to loans was 70 percent to 30 percent, this ratio has effectively reversed, with 75 percent of federal aid now in the form of loans.
  • The shift from grants to loans has meant a dramatic increase in the number of students facing significant debt upon completion of postsecondary education.
  • This heavy debt burden often limits career choices and prevents many talented students from pursuing careers in public service, including as teachers.

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