How Doubling the Pell Grant Can Make Life Easier for College Students

How Doubling the Pell Grant Can Make Life Easier for College Students

For low-income students, choosing the right college or university is often decided by how much money they will give us. We do not have the luxury of choosing a university in a favorable location or by enrollment size. Some of us can’t even choose the one that offers the best program for our major because it doesn’t grant us enough funding. We, low-income students, are faced with limitations when it comes to going to college. 

And yes, scholarships are available, and their abundance does inspire us to apply to as many as possible. However, their competitive nature means not all students will receive a scholarship and therefore we cannot rely just on them. In other words, we need our government to keep funding education access for low-income students. Opportunities that come with programs like the Pell Grant. 

What is the Pell Grant exactly? 

The Pell Grant is a need-based grant awarded to undergraduate students who have not obtained a degree and demonstrate exceptional financial need. It has provided support for about 7 million students each year across 5,000 institutions in the U.S. However, its purchasing power has declined significantly over time. According to the Institute for College Access and Success, the Pell Grant only covers 30% of a college education when it covered about 80% in 1980. 

As a Oaxacan low-income student raised in South Central LA and a personal recipient of the Pell Grant, I can vouch that receiving this aid was a significant help for covering my tuition at UC Berkeley during my first two years of college. I felt supported by this assistance and received an additional refund to cover my basic needs like food and housing. However, after my sophomore year, I noticed that my Pell Grant amount was declining as I reached senior year. 

This is why we need to build awareness to #DoublePell because it can close the affordability gap for low-income students, leading to higher enrollment and an increase in retention rates. Education Policy Advisor Shelbe Klebs argues that the COVID-19 pandemic has made many students “rethink their post-secondary plans for fall; some may forgo college temporarily or permanently to work to support their families while others may choose to attend a more affordable community college close to home instead of a pricier four-year school farther away.” 

Doubling the Pell Grant is the most effective way to make college affordable and available for all students. It can lead to more enrollment of low-income students of color, increase graduate school enrollments with more students pursuing higher education, decrease dropout rates, and restore its purchasing power. 

Having this grant available made my college selection process easier because I could choose a good school with the financial aid package that was right for me. I am #ThankfulForPell because I was able to graduate from a 4-year university. By doubling the Pell Grant, I believe more students like me can have greater access to higher education, reach their potential and empower their communities. 

By: Celeste Rojas

Student Advocacy Intern

Budgeting: A Brief Guide

Budgeting: A Brief Guide

So you have adult money now! Do you know how to take care of it and make sure it is used appropriately? If you don’t keep reading! Below you will find steps and tips on how to budget your money, a skill that is crucial for survival and success. Once you master budgeting, you’ll get a clear sense of your financial limitations as well as your freedoms! 

Get a sense of your cash flow

How often do you get money? Knowing how often you have access to money ensures that you actually have money to spend. As a student, get a clear sense of how much money you get from a financial aid refund every semester/quarter. If you have a job, get a clear sense of how much you get paid, along with how often you get paid. Once you know your cash flow, you can figure out how much money you have to spend in a semester/quarter, a month, a week, etc! 

Identify your costs

What do you have to spend your money on? Make a list of everything you pay every month. Begin by listing the costs that are necessary for your survival and success as a student. Costs to prioritize include– but are not limited to–  housing, food, transportation, and textbooks. Costs that are secondary are not necessarily needed; this includes services like Netflix or Spotify. Make sure your costs are not greater than your cash flow! If your costs are bigger than your cash flow, try to find costs that you can reduce or cut out entirely. 

Save some money

Are you prepared for an unexpected cost? After you identify your costs, create some wiggle room for unexpected costs. Perhaps your computer charging cable is broken and you need to buy another one ASAP, will you have the money ready? Of course, as students, we are limited with how much we can save, but it is wise to leave as much of our money untouched as possible.

Enjoy your freedoms

What fun things do you want to spend your money on? After you’ve paid everything you have to and put some money on the side for savings, do something fun! Go out for boba or buy a video game! Make sure that you have a clear idea of how much you have to spend for a certain time period. For example, if you have an extra $200 dollars a month, you can only use $50 a week. Do not exceed your spending limit, otherwise, you will be biting into your costs and savings which are necessary for your survival.

All of this can be confusing, but bless the internet age for all its applications! Below are some free apps you can download to help you budget.

Options to Cover the College Bill

Options to Cover the College Bill

Financial aid offers from the colleges you have been accepted to oftentimes don’t cover the entire direct cost of college. This means that after financial aid has been applied, there is usually a balance leftover that the student must pay, which is billed by the college. The total amount due for the year is typically split into two or three bills, based on whether the college goes by the semester system, quarter system, or credit hours. The student will receive the fall bill via mail or via the student’s college portal in June or July. Bill due dates will vary by college, but typically must be paid before classes for the new term start.

There are several options for paying the college bill, and it all depends on what works for you and your family. When planning to pay the college bill, students and families should consider these options first:

  • Family/student savings from savings accounts, and/or college savings plans (such as 529 college savings accounts, if applicable)
  • Earnings from summer or part-time jobs may help cover part of the college bill or cover indirect expenses like transportation, books, or dorm room supplies.
  • Outside scholarships can be used at any college or university. Search for scholarships online and pay close attention to deadlines. 
  • Tuition Payment Plans may make the bill more manageable by enabling you to pay the estimated bill over the course of the school year instead of having to pay it all at once and with no interest accrual. You can look at your college’s website for payment plans available and see if there is one that fits your family’s budget.

These are the best options to pay the college bill because they do not need to be repaid in the future. However, student loans are also another option. If you are considering taking out student loans to cover the college bill, it is advisable to maximize your eligibility for Federal Direct Student Loans or campus-based loans first before looking at private student loans. There are several reasons why federal student loans and campus-based loans may be more beneficial than those you may find on the private market:

  • Favorable interest rates and terms
  • Eligibility doesn’t depend on credit history
  • More flexibility during repayment
  • May be eligible for loan forgiveness if you work in a certain field

In addition to Federal Direct Loans offered to you, the student, there is also a federal loan option for parent(s) who would like to help their children cover the college bill. The Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS) allows parents to borrow up to the cost of attendance (after existing financial aid has been taken into account) every year of college, with no long-term cumulative limit. In addition, they may postpone monthly payments on the loan until after their child graduates (although interest will continue to accrue on the loan balance regardless). Also important to note, if your parent(s) apply for the PLUS but are denied, you become eligible for an additional $4,000 in Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans for the school year. If you find yourself in this situation you should contact your financial aid office for the next steps in having the extra loan amount credited to your account.