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As a presidential candidate in 2020, Joe Biden promised to double the maximum value of Pell Grants, federal assistance for lower-income undergraduate students that, unlike student loans, do not have to be paid back.
Biden hasn't enacted a full doubling, but he did sign legislation increasing the maximum grant by the largest amount in more than a decade.
On March 15, 2022, Biden signed a $1.5 trillion bill to fund the federal government through September 2022. One of the bill's many provisions was a $400 bump in the maximum Pell Grant for the 2022-23 school year. This is the biggest increase since the 2009-10 school year, according to the National College Attainment Network, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group.
The maximum award now stands at $6,895, a bit lower than the $7,045 that would have been provided if Biden's initial social spending bill, the Build Back Better Act, had been enacted. A more limited version of Build Back Better, passed the Senate in August 2022 and was signed by the president, but it did not include education-related funding.
Biden is still working on getting a larger increase. In his fiscal 2023 budget proposal, released about two weeks after he signed the spending bill, Biden proposed increasing the Pell Grant maximum to $8,670.
"Pell Grants have been the foundation of low- and moderate-income students' financial aid for decades," the Education Department said upon the budget proposal's release. "However, the value has diminished as college costs continue to rise."
College Board data shows the average college tuition at a public, four-year university for the 2021-22 school year was $10,740 for in-state students and $27,560 for out-of-state students.
Time is running out for advancing legislation before the midterm elections, and fulfilling Biden's promise of a doubling might be impossible if Republicans take control of at least one chamber of Congress.
Still, the enactment of the largest Pell Grant increase in more than a decade counts as a tangible achievement, so we rate this a Compromise.
White House, "Bill Signed: H.R. 2471," March 15, 2022
U.S. Education Department, "Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Summary," accessed Aug. 18, 2022
National College Attainment Network, "President Biden Signs Bipartisan Federal Funding Deal Into Law: $400 Pell Grant Increase Coming," March 15, 2022
Inside Higher Ed, "Biden Seeks Big Increase for Pell," March 29, 2022
As a presidential candidate in 2020, Joe Biden promised to double the maximum value of Pell Grants, a category of federal assistance for lower-income undergraduate students that, unlike student loans, do not have to be paid back.
Legislation backed by Biden seeks to increase the size of Pell grants a student can receive, but the increase is short of double.
Much of Biden's human-capital agenda was considered for inclusion in a bill known as the Build Back Better Act. That measure has passed the House and is under consideration in the Senate, but has recently faced opposition.
That's an increase of about 8%, not double. And the provision isn't guaranteed to make it into the final version of the bill.
That's because Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. — whose vote would be necessary for passage — has expressed reservations about the scope and nature of the House bill's provisions. This means that the bill that emerges from the Senate will likely look different from the one that passed the House, complicating though not torpedoing its chances of enactment.
While Biden's hope of doubling the size of Pell Grant awards has fallen by the wayside, a bill to increase the maximum award remains alive in the Senate. For now, that's enough to rate this promise In the Works.
StudentAid.gov, "Federal Pell Grants are usually awarded only to undergraduate students," accessed Jan. 4, 2021
CNN, "10 things you didn't know are in the Democrats' Build Back Better bill," Dec. 8, 2021
Washington Post, "For-profit colleges fight exclusion from Pell Grant increase in Biden's spending bill," Nov. 23, 2021