Vanderbilt joins higher ed community to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Pell Grant program

Today, June 23, 2022, marks the 50th anniversary of the Pell Grant, a federal student aid program that has expanded higher-education opportunities for millions of low-income Americans. To celebrate this historic milestone, Vanderbilt has joined with others in the higher education community to highlight its value and impact and underscore the need for Congress to reinvest in the program. 

Led by the Office of Federal Relations, Vanderbilt is engaging this week with the broader higher education community effort to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Pell Grant program, raising visibility and highlighting the crucial importance of this program to enable access to higher education for low-income students. Through a concerted social media campaign, Vanderbilt is celebrating the program and the many ways it has enabled student success and social mobility. The effort reiterates Vanderbilt’s strong support of the Pell Grant program as the foundation of Opportunity Vanderbilt and our commitment to undergraduate student financial aid.  

“Few social programs have done as much to advance society as the Pell Grant,” said Nathan Green, vice chancellor for government and community relations. “Not only has it opened higher education to so many talented and deserving students, it has also served as the foundation of Opportunity Vanderbilt, our visionary financial aid program that replaced loans with scholarships and grants.”  

Bipartisan resolutions have been introduced in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate marking this anniversary. At Vanderbilt’s request, Reps. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN03), Jim Cooper (D-TN05) and Steve Cohen (D-TN09) have co-sponsored the House resolution 

Other events this week include floor speeches in the House of Representatives commemorating the Pell Grant program and a Capitol Hill briefing co-hosted by the Institute for College Access and Success and Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) and featuring remarks by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI).   

Vanderbilt University and advocates across the country have called on Congress to increase the Pell Grant maximum award, which has failed to keep up with inflation. Most recently, advocacy efforts have focused on doubling the maximum Pell Grant to $13,000. Reinvesting in the Pell Grant will ease the student loan burden, help students meet their basic needs and expand financial aid to more students. Earlier this year, the Vanderbilt Office of Federal Relations led an effort among more than 65 colleges and universities in Tennessee to advocate for doubling the amount of aid awarded by the Pell Grant program. In the January letter asking for the change, signatories wrote, “This long overdue investment will help to drive economic recovery and mobility, address racial and economic inequities in college completion rates, and increase overall educational attainment.”  

“The Pell Grant program enjoys strong bipartisan support from both the public and policymakers because it has been so successful in opening the doors of higher education to students while preserving their ability to attend the institution that best meets their needs,” said Christina West, associate vice chancellor for federal relations. “As we mark the 50th anniversary of the program, it is time for Congress to reinvest in the Pell Grant program.”  

Nationally the funds have been awarded to nearly 7 million low- and moderate-income students, and in Tennessee alone nearly $550 million in funds have been awarded to more than 133,000 postsecondary students. During the 2020–21 academic year, 19 percent of first-time Vanderbilt students were Pell-eligible, and for the cohort of Pell recipients entering in 2015, there was a 90 percent six-year graduation rate.