Today, Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the Pell Grant Protection Act, legislation that preserves and expands access to Pell Grants. Congressman Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX), the Ranking Democrat on the House Subcommittee for Higher Education and Workforce Training, introduced the companion bill in the U.S. House. Pell Grants have not kept up with rising college costs and this bill helps low-income students by converting Pell Grants into an automatic spending program with a cost-of-living adjustment similar to the formula used by Social Security. The bill also restores Year-Round Pell Grants, which will help students get their degrees faster, with no gap in eligibility. About one million students -- including 1,620 in Hawaii -- used Year-Round Pell Grants each year before Congress eliminated them in 2011.
"In today's competitive economy, college costs are becoming more and more prohibitive for many students," said Senator Hirono. "I've met promising students in Hawaii who want to go to college so they can improve their futures and help their families, yet they know college is just too expensive. Pell Grants have changed the lives of countless low-income students, and the Pell Grant Protection Act will build on these critical resources for future students by enabling students to continue taking classes in the summer or winter and ensuring that Pell Grants keep up with increases in cost of living."
"Pell Grants have become one of the most helpful and successful financial assistance programs that have made college affordable for so many students," said Congressman Hinojosa. "In the state of Texas and across our nation many first generation college graduates, who came from low-income families, achieved their goal because of Pell Grants. I have seen thousands of successful college graduates who are thriving in our workforce and boosting our country's economy all because they had a fair chance at higher education through Pell Grants. We want to make sure the door remains open for those who otherwise could not afford a college education."
"The Pell grant is the cornerstone of our federal student aid programs and it needs to be preserved, protected, and strengthened for future generations. In the 1970s, the maximum Pell grant covered about 72 percent of the cost of attendance at a public 4-year college. For the 2014-15 school year, the maximum grant is expected to cover less than one-third of the cost. Investing in Pell grants is critical to ensuring the doors to higher education remain open to all students with the talent, drive, and desire to pursue a college degree," said U.S. Senator Jack Reed.
"As the cost of higher education continues to skyrocket, Pell Grants are now more vital than ever to families in Rhode Island and across the country," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. "This legislation will help uphold Senator Pell's vision that Americans should be able to obtain a college education, regardless of their financial resources, by ensuring stable funding for the program which bears his name. I'm proud to join Senator Hirono in supporting this important bill."
"Stabilizing and enhancing funding for the Pell Grant program is one of the most important actions Congress can take to support college affordability in Hawaii. The University of Hawaii is working to accelerate college completion for students through more strategic use of summer sessions statewide. So enhancements to support greater Pell utilization over the summer will enable our most motivated and needy students on all islands to meet their educational goals more quickly and join the workforce sooner," said David Lassner, Interim President of the University of Hawaii System.
"The Pell Grant Protection Act would assist a significant amount of UH Manoa students in funding their higher education here in Hawaii," said Richard Mizusawa, President of the Associated Students of the University of Hawaii and 2014 B.A. candidate. "During the 2012-13 academic year, 4,813 UH Manoa students, approximately 25% of the student population we have on campus, used Pell Grants that went towards a huge portion of the cost of their education. Having access to education with the help of Pell Grants is pivotal in ensuring that access to college remains open for our students, as UH Manoa is a place where we want to serve students who can not only afford it, but for those who would not be able to otherwise. We want to see more students attending college in Hawaii to be able to give back to our state and nation, and reduce the amount of students leaving college for financial reasons, and/or defaulting on student loans. Having the Pell Grant Protection Act pass would show Congress' commitment to higher education in our country, and I look forward to seeing more students on our college campus graduate if this bill becomes law."
"In the past few years Congress enacted several restrictions and limitations on Pell Grant eligibility that reduced access to postsecondary education," said Kimberly Jones, President of the Committee for Education Funding. "Indeed, the U.S. Department of Education projected that 145,000 students completely lost their eligibility for Pell grants. Since Pell is the cornerstone of federal student financial aid, it's critical that it receive predictable guaranteed funding, so students and their families can plan for and count on Pell Grants to help them obtain much needed postsecondary education. We thank Sen. Hirono for her leadership on Pell Grants and college access and opportunity and pleased to support the Pell Grant Protection Act."
"The Council for Opportunity in Education applauds the introduction of the Pell Grant Protection Act by Senator Mazie Hirono," said Maureen Hoyler, President of the Council for Opportunity in Education. "As a student who herself was first-generation to college and who relied on federal financial aid, Senator Hirono has a unique understanding of the challenges faced by low-income students in pursuit of higher education. In particular, she knows that students need not be burdened by the uncertainty of whether federal funds will be available. By stabilizing the funding source for the Pell Grant and restoring the availability of year-round Pell Grant funds, this important legislation takes an important step towards meeting the needs of our nation's low-income, first-generation students, such as those served by the Federal TRIO Programs. As such, we are pleased to lend our full support to the Pell Grant Protection Act."