UC Launches Campaign to Double the Pell Grant

Urging Additional Federal investment in College Affordability

a male high school student raises a hand to ask question
UC Davis' Early Academic Outreach Program holds events, such as this one at Woodland High School in 2016, not only to help prospective students understand the admissions process, but also to let them know financial aid is available and how to apply for it. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

The University of California on Monday (Feb. 8) launched the Double the Pell campaign calling on Congress and the Biden administration to charter a more affordable pathway to higher education for America’s students and families. UC is partnering with the UC Student Association in the national advocacy effort to boost Pell Grants for low-income students across the country.


  • 11,230 students, or 42 percent of undergraduates who are U.S. residents, received Pell Grants in 2019.
  • The average parent income of recipients was $26,726, and nearly 20 percent of recipients were independent students.
  • About two-thirds of Pell recipients have to borrow additional funds to meet educational costs — almost double the rate of non-recipients.
  • Pell recipients generally take longer to graduate as they face the challenges of meeting basic needs and working more than their peers.

— UC Office of the President

The Pell Grant is the main way the federal government helps low-income students afford college, with more than 7 million students taking advantage of the grant each year to pay a portion of their educational expenses. Forty years ago, the Pell Grant covered more than 75 percent of a student’s four-year public college costs. Over time, disinvestment has eroded the value of the grant to around 28 percent.

The Double the Pell campaign furthers UC’s commitment to ensuring that Californians and students across the nation have access to a quality, affordable college education. UC enrolls a higher percentage of low-income students than any of its public or private peer institutions. In fact, three UC campuses each enroll more Pell students than the entire Ivy League combined.

“The University of California has a long-standing record of investing in financial aid and student success,” UC President Michael V. Drake said. “However, UC cannot do this alone. We need impactful, long-term support for students and for higher education across the country; we need Congress to double the Pell as a down payment on America’s future.”

The maximum Pell Grant is $6,345 in 2020-21. At the urging of UC and other institutions, Congress raised the maximum to $6,495 for 2021-22. Now, UC is urging Congress to continue its commitment by raising the maximum award by $2,168 a year for the next three years to effectively double the Pell Grant maximum to $13,000 by academic year 2024-25.

‘One of the greatest investments’

“Ensuring a more affordable, accessible higher education across the country is one of the greatest investments America can make — not only in those students, but also in their future contributions to the economy and to society,” UC Board or Regents Chair John A. Pérez said. “Their advancement and success will yield limitless dividends over years and decades.”

"Double the Pell" arrow graphic

Besides the UC Student Association, other allies are the UC Advocacy Network, Washington Student Association and Ohio Student Association, as well as national student advocacy organizations such as The Institute for College Access and Success, and National College Attainment Network.

“Addressing the challenges of access and affordability is a priority of UCSA,” said Aidan Arasasingham, president of the UC Student Association. “For too long in America, we have seen low-income, first-generation and undocumented students as well as individuals of color inequitably shoulder the financial burden from a college degree. Doubling the Pell takes us one step further on the path to a debt-free graduation.”

Socioeconomic mobility

'The success of the Pell Grant program in driving socioeconomic mobility is evident at UC, with the power to transform a family’s earning potential in a single generation. More than 78,000 UC students — 35 percent of all undergraduates — receive Pell Grants. Within five years of graduating, the median individual income of Pell Grant students exceeds that of their families at the time they enrolled. More than one in three UC alumni who come from the bottom 20 percent of income earners rise to the top 20 percent as adults.

“Higher education has long been one of the country’s primary economic equalizers,” said Shawn Brick, the university’s executive director of student financial support. “At UC, we see how robust financial aid can help alleviate the financial burden for disadvantaged students. In addition to need-based grants and the state’s Cal Grant program for Californian students, boosting Pell Grants will provide an even greater return on investment to taxpayers.”

Students across the country continue to lack adequate food and housing security, as well as access to affordable child care, reliable technology and other resources that make pursuing a higher education possible. With a substantial federal investment in the Pell Grant, America’s lowest-income students can graduate with much less student debt and more easily achieve financial security.

Jumpstarting economic growth

One of the greatest barriers to a college education is the price of university attendance and the resulting debt for students and their families. This economic hurdle is often felt even more acutely by undergraduates from under-resourced backgrounds that may include first-generation, low-income and undocumented students, or people of color.


When students graduate with enormous debts, they put off having families, purchasing homes and making other significant investments in our economy. Alleviating this debt burden now, and into the future, would help jumpstart America’s economic growth at a critical time for our state and nation.

If students and their families are provided access to additional Pell Grant dollars, institutional and state aid can be more effectively maximized to supplement associated costs and also help UC students who may not qualify for federal assistance. Last year alone, Pell Grants provided slightly more than $400 million in support to UC students. In comparison, UC invested nearly $800 million in need-based grants, while the state of California awarded $950 million through the Cal Grant program.

Fifty-six percent of California undergraduates who attend UC pay no tuition, largely due to the state of California’s Cal Grant program and the university’s Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan, an institutional aid program to cover tuition as well as housing, food, books and transportation for needy students.

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UC Office of the President Media Relations, media@ucop.edu

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