$5.2 Billion in Pell Funds in Danger; UNCF Recommends Needed Improvements

WASHINGTON—UNCF expresses deep concerns with the Trump administration’s proposal to cancel over $5 billion in needed funds for Pell grants, which support 70 percent of students attending the nation’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

The administration’s FY 2018 “skinny budget” proposed a $3.9 billion cut to Pell Grant funds that are needed to boost the historically low purchasing power of Pell Grants for financially needy students, including the overwhelming majority of the nation’s 300,000 HBCU students who receive these grants to earn college degrees.  This week, we learned that the Administration proposes to shift another $1.3 billion out of the Pell program to pay for increased defense spending during the last few months of FY 2017.  In total, $5.2 billion that has accumulated in the Pell program would be cancelled at a time when HBCU students—burdened with student loan debt—desperately need additional scholarships and federal grant aid.

“When we take away federal investments in the students who need it most, we are in effect taking away needed investments in America’s economy and global competitiveness,” said UNCF president and CEO Dr. Michael Lomax. “A more robust federal investment in Pell Grants would enhance college access, improve college outcomes—both persistence and degree completion—and lower student debt, which is a crisis for students at HBCUs. Degree completion is directly tied to creating the college-educated workforce needed to fill high-skilled jobs of today’s global economy.”

Federal financial assistance targeted to low-income students has not kept pace with the need. The Pell Grant program is the single largest source of federal scholarships for students who lack the financial means to pay for college: more than 7.6 million students receive Pell Grants. Nonetheless, in the 2016-2017 school year, the maximum Pell award of $5,815 paid, on average, only 29 percent of the average cost of attendance at a four-year public college and only 13 percent of the average cost of attendance at a four-year private, nonprofit college—the lowest share in the history of the program.

“The Pell Grant should be the equalizer for students with limited means, and there are a number of ways to make Pell Grants work better for these students,” said Lomax. “UNCF strongly urges the Trump administration to reconsider these reductions, which threaten college opportunity for low-income students at HBCUs and other institutions. Now is the time to reinvest these funds back into the Pell program by restoring grants for summer study, increasing the maximum award, and providing bonus awards for completing 15 credits so that students can finish in four years.”

Last week, UNCF sent a letter to the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development outlining ways to improve federal student aid, including these and other suggestions to make Pell work for students with limited financial means. UNCF hopes that the administration will seriously consider these recommendations as it evaluates adjustments to the FY17 budget and as it continues to develop line-items details in the FY18 budget.


About UNCF
UNCF (United Negro College Fund) is the nation’s largest and most effective minority education organization. To serve youth, the community and the nation, UNCF supports students’ education and development through scholarships and other programs, strengthens its 37 member colleges and universities, and advocates for the importance of minority education and college readiness. UNCF institutions and other historically black colleges and universities are highly effective, awarding 20 percent of African American baccalaureate degrees. UNCF annually awards $100 million in scholarships and administers more than 400 programs, including scholarship, internship and fellowship, mentoring, summer enrichment, and curriculum and faculty development programs. Today, UNCF supports more than 60,000 students at more than 1,100 colleges and universities across the country. Its logo features the UNCF torch of leadership in education and its widely recognized trademark, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”® Learn more at UNCF.org, or for continuous news and updates, follow UNCF on Twitter, @UNCF and #HBCUsMatter.