Concerned that the recently announced budget shortfall will translate into cuts in the program and threaten the $4,000 maximum grant appropriated in spending bills, students and student advocates are mobilizing in support of increased spending in the Pell grant program. Students on campuses across the country are writing letters, sending e-mails, and calling their representatives and senators, urging them to fully fund a $250 increase in the maximum Pell grant.

“Congress should fully fund the $250 increase in the maximum grant. When the economy is on a downturn, a college education becomes even more important, but it becomes less affordable. Now more than ever, we should ensure access to an affordable college education,” said Ellynne Bannon, PIRG higher education advocate.

The Pell grant is the foundation of financial aid for low-income students, helping nearly four million students pay for college. However, over the past 30 years, the Pell grant has failed to keep up with tuition and cost of living increase. The maximum Pell Grant award has declined from covering nearly 80 percent of average public university tuition in 1979, to approximately 40 percent today. Increasing the maximum grant by $250 would be a step toward restoring the Pell grant to its original strength.

This month, the Office of Management and Budget announced that the $1.7 billion appropriated in the House and Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education spending bills would only maintain the Pell grant maximum at last year’s level. In fact, the $250 increase requested by appropriators would require an additional $800 million to $1 billion. The shortfall is caused by this year’s unprecedented 9.66 percent increase in the number of Pell grant recipients.

“The students who are newly eligible for Pell grants are the students that the program was meant to serve: low-income students who need the most help paying for a college education. Now that times are hard, these students need even more help, and the worst thing we could do is take back our promise of an affordable college education,” said Bannon. “Now more than ever, students need the help of the Pell grant to afford a college education.”