Pell peril: The fading significance of the ladder to college

The federal Pell Grant program was designed to help college students coming from low-income families afford the high cost of going to college without getting buried in debt, the Huffington Post reports. But the Pell Grant now covers less than one-third of the cost of attendance at public four-year university, the lowest in its history. Where the maximum Pell Grant once covered the entire cost of obtaining a two-year degree and 77 percent of the cost at a public university in 1980, it now covers only 62 percent of the cost of a two-year degree and 36 percent towards a public four-year degree. Even though the Pell Grant has never covered such a small fraction, it’s been subject to repeated attempts to cut it and make sure it continues to shrink in the future. At the same time, the cost of college is projected to increase faster than inflation. Meghan McClean, director of policy and federal relations at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said the Great Recession has created a “perfect storm”: More people are going back to school, states have scaled back higher education support, and tuition is growing faster than the Pell Grant can keep up…

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