A half-century of access: The Federal Pell Grant Program turns 50

A half-century of access: The Federal Pell Grant Program turns 50
Thursday, June 23, 2022

On June 23, colleges and universities across the country are honoring the golden anniversary of the federal program that has made the dream of pursuing a bachelor’s degree a reality for millions of people who otherwise might not have the opportunity.

The Federal Pell Grant Program, authorized by Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 and reauthorized in the Higher Education Amendments of 1972, has been awarding grant aid — which does not require reimbursement — since 1973. In its first year, the program awarded funding to 600,000 students nationwide who demonstrated the program’s prerequisite financial need. By 2021-22, that number swelled to 6.2 million, approximately one-third of all U.S. college students.

Brittney ConnorAt UNC Charlotte, where commitment to access is intrinsically linked to institutional mission and vision, support from the Pell Grant Program has been integral to the success of thousands of Niner alumni. Among them is Brittney Connor ‘15, the founder of Catalyst 4 Change LLC and editor-in-chief of Emotional Intelligence Magazine. 

 “As a nontraditional student, I set a goal to get a four-year degree as soon as possible to enter the workforce and start making a living; to do that, I decided to make getting my degree a full-time job,” she said. “The Pell Grant Program allowed me to attend my classes without the added stress of thinking about how I would pay to attend and it helped me cut the cost of my student debt in half.”

Priority Access

Pell-eligibility among UNC Charlotte students aligns with national statistics. In the most recent academic year, 9,256 Niners — more than one-third of the undergraduate student body — received Pell Grant support as the foundation of their financial aid packages. Among them were new, first-year students for fall 2021. Of this cohort, which arrived with a collective 3.9 average weighted GPA, 37% received assistance through the Pell Grant Program. Projections for the upcoming academic year are comparable.

“Pell Grant aid is critical to ensuring that all deserving students have access to a life-changing opportunity to earn a degree,” said Claire Kirby, UNC Charlotte’s associate provost for enrollment management. “For students from low- or moderate-income families, the cost of college often is the barrier. For them – and many adult students who are balancing cost with other responsibilities – grant aid makes possible the ability to remain enrolled and on track to graduate, which leads, ultimately, to fulfilling careers and elevated social mobility.”