Our lawmakers must support more Pell grants in the interest of higher education

This fall, the US Congress is negotiating major infrastructure and budget reconciliation legislation. While there may be a debate on the details, both sides agree that America should invest in its roads, bridges, ports, power grids, wireless systems, and other critical infrastructure.

Higher education is another essential part of our infrastructure that deserves our attention. There is no better path to economic prosperity than a college degree, and the Pell Grant program serves as both a bridge and a highway for millions of low- and modest-income students hoping to build a future for themselves. best through a college degree.

Currently, the House Education & Labor Committee is proposing a $ 500 increase in the maximum grant amount. Because the Pell Grant continues to open doors for the next generation of college-aged Americans, we urge lawmakers to seize this opportunity and double the maximum grant to $ 13,000.

This staple of federal financial aid has its roots in the Great Society program championed by one Texan: President Lyndon B. Johnson. Pell scholarships are generally awarded to students with a total family income of less than $ 50,000, but most go to those with an income of less than $ 20,000. Because Texas is the second largest and third youngest state, the Pell Scholarships play a disproportionate role in the finances of more than 400,000 students in our state.

At UT institutions, more than half of our full-time students receive the current maximum Pell scholarship of $ 6,495. Students can use these funds for tuition, books, accommodation, and other living expenses. Even though UT’s tuition and tuition fees are among the lowest in the country, Pell Grants must go further. Instead, our students currently incur an average debt of $ 20,863 to complete their undergraduate education.

The increase in Pell Grants is a win-win for Texas. Recipients who graduated from UT institutions between 2009 and 2018 generated more than $ 28 billion in revenue in our state. Unlike many states, Texas retains its graduates in record numbers, so investing more in Pell Grants produces more outstanding graduates, which in turn contributes to the growth of our economy. Additionally, Pell Grants increase access for students of color and first generation students. More than half of black and Hispanic students at UT institutions receive them. Doubling the Pell scholarships would dramatically increase access to education for Texans, while limiting student debt and improving the economic mobility of all beneficiaries.

Pell grants are aid, not handouts. We recognize that increasing access is not enough. Universities should complement federal aid with state and local programs that provide additional financial aid, including mentoring, tutoring, and networking resources for Pell students.

For example, at UT Austin, the Texas Advance Commitment offers free tuition to Pell students, which means their scholarship can be used for other living expenses. Meanwhile, UT for Me, backed by the Dell Scholars program, directly targets Pell-eligible students with financial coaching, internship planning, textbook credits, and even a new laptop. This program is new and UT Austin is partnering with the Dell Foundation to share the learnings and best practices developed to help scale these efforts across the country. Nationally, we need more programs like these to better amplify federal programs like the Pell Grant.

America and Texas are developing. If current trends continue, our state’s population could double over the next 30 years. It is more important than ever that we cultivate a local workforce to be competitive in the global knowledge-based economy. Because talents, skills and abilities transcend any particular class, race or gender, expanding access and cultivating excellence means unleashing the incredible potential that resides in every community in Texas. Pell Grants, amplified by state and local programs, have the ability to help cultivate better society, create jobs, grow the economy, and advance knowledge. This is why it is essential that Congress act on this unique opportunity to increase funding for the program.

Jay Hartzell is the president of the University of Texas at Austin.

James Milliken is the Chancellor of the University of Texas System.

A version of this editorial appeared in the Houston Chronicle.

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