Reps. Carbajal, Schiff Introduce Legislation to Expand Pell Grant, Improve College Affordability

Lawmakers seek to build on recent Pell Grant increases, the largest in a decade, by doubling the maximum award to $14,800 per school year

Today, California Congressman Salud Carbajal (CA-24) and Adam Schiff (CA-30) introduced legislation to expand the Pell Grant and improve college affordability for students across California and the United States.

The Degrees Not Debt Act would double the maximum Pell Grant award to $14,800, decreasing the amount of burdensome student loan debt for individuals pursuing higher education, and index that award cap to inflation after the 2025-2026 school year.

“American college students owe nearly $2 trillion in student loans, and the tools that we have to prevent students from taking on additional debt to complete their education aren’t keeping up with the rising costs of higher education-even at our public colleges and universities,” said Congressman Carbajal. “As someone who was the first in his family to graduate college and someone who relied on Pell and other federal aid to earn that degree, I know the value of these awards have eroded over the past decade. We have made progress in recent years securing the largest expansion of Pell in a decade, but still it is not enough to keep up with the rising cost of higher education.” 

"I am a strong supporter of Pell Grants because they open doors for so many students who work hard but face financial hurdles," said Rep. Schiff. “Our bill will double the maximum award for these grants because currently they do not cover the ever-increasing costs associated with higher education. It's an obvious investment: we're making college more accessible and affordable, ensuring hardworking students everywhere have the chance they deserve." 

The Degrees Not Debt Act has the endorsement of the National Education Association, Young Invincibles, University of California System, Santa Barbara City College, Allan Hancock College, Cuesta College, Ventura College, Pasadena City College, Glendale Community College, and Los Angeles Community College District.

“The Degrees Not Debt Act acknowledges the financial challenge faced by today's college student. Cuesta College appreciates Congressman Carbajal's dedicated effort to make college accessible to all by increasing the Pell Grant award,” said Dr. Jill Stearns, Superintendent and President of Cuesta College.

“Representative Carbajal's Degrees Not Debt Act means more support for thousands of SBCC students to afford college and living costs in Santa Barbara," said Santa Barbara City College Board of Trustees President Jonathan Abboud. "We are grateful for his continued advocacy. Expanding federal financial aid to SBCC students also amplifies local support programs, such as the SBCC Promise.”

“Higher education has been painted as a path toward upward financial and social mobility, but in reality, too often, it has bogged students down with a lifetime of debt. Higher education associations, organizations, and advocacy groups have long shared the need to double the maximum Federal Pell Grant award, and the current college affordability and student debt crises have pushed policymakers and higher education leaders to act. Increasing the total maximum Federal Pell Grant to at least $14,800 is an essential step in ensuring students from low- and moderate-income communities can gain access to a more affordable college education. Young Invincibles is proud to endorse the Degrees Not Debt Act of 2024 and continue to advocate for a debt-free path to higher education,” said Satra D. Taylor, Director of Higher Education and Workforce Policy and Advocacy at Young Invincibles.

“Allan Hancock College prides itself on being the regional leader in affordable education. Our ability to offer the Hancock Promise and more than a half-million dollars per year in scholarships is critical for our students, but more can be done. Families in our region face enormous pressures from the cost of housing, food, and transportation. This makes it difficult for students to attend full-time without taking on loans. The Degrees Not Debt Act is good for our families, good for our colleges, and good for taxpayers,” said Kevin G. Walthers, Superintendent and President of Allan Hancock College.

Reps. Carbajal and Schiff worked with House Democrats and the Biden-Harris Administration to raise the maximum Pell award for the 2024-2025 school year to $7,395, $500 higher than the previous year and $900 higher than 2022. These increases constitute the largest Pell increase in a decade.

Student loan debt in the U.S. totals more than $1.7 trillion – nearly twice the total credit card debt held by Americans. Californians hold the largest amount of student loan debt of any state, more than $140 billion, with an average student loan debt of $37,000 per borrower.

Over seven million students across the country rely on Pell Grants to cover the costs of their higher education. But the current maximum Pell Grant award only covers one-fifth of the average cost of an American four-year college.

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