On Jan. 18, President Jo Allen, ‘80, wrote a piece for The Hill, advocating for the increase in the Federal Pell Grant. Dr. Allen discussed the benefits of the increase for students and their future in her article while separately discussing the impact of financial assistance for Meredith students and students at other colleges and universities.
The Federal Pell Grant is funded by Congress through the appropriations process. This process is when the House and Senate Appropriations Committees hold hearings to look into budget requests and needs of federal spending programs which is usually evaluated by their twelve subcommittees. The Pell Grant is a need-based form of financial aid that does not need to be paid back. Students who have demonstrated financial need are eligible for the Pell Grant and are identified when they fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Dr. Allen said she chose to write an article for The Hill because it is an outlet legislators read, and they’re the ones who have the power to increase the Federal Pell Grant. In her article, she argues that “Pell Grants have failed to keep pace with cost increases” and now cover less than 30 cents on the dollar when they once covered over half the cost of college, on average.
In order to fix this problem, Dr. Allen advocates for doubling the Pell in her article—this would increase the maximum award from $6,500 to $13,000. She cites the Gender Policy Institute’s research, which found that doubling the Pell Grant would cut students’ college loan debt in half.
Dr. Allen told The Herald that in addition to the arguments she makes in her The Hill article, she is passionate about ensuring students who choose to attend private colleges get the same government aid as students who attend public universities. Dr. Allen said that as a “past Chair of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), the largest organization engaged in political advocacy for private colleges in the U.S.,” she keeps up to date on legislative matters regarding education and is currently focused on the “disproportionate funding for public versus private higher education.”
“Students who choose private higher education typically do so not only for personal reasons…but largely because they see the institution as their ‘best fit,’ meaning it is most likely to offer the kind of experience, environment, support…and opportunities they desire,” Dr. Allen said. “They should not have to amass disproportionate debt to make that choice.”
Dr. Allen said she views the investment into the Pell Grant as an “investment in the future” that “dramatically enhances the number of people enjoying data-supported college benefits [like] salaries, security, etc.” While she did not receive a Pell grant herself while at Meredith, she said she can still attest to the benefit of legislative grants.“I did benefit from a legislative grant for college students whose parent(s) was a prisoner of war, as my father was in World War II,” Dr. Allen said. “With my sister and I being here at Meredith at the same time, that tuition assistance was important to our family.”
Dr. Allen emphasized that 95% of Meredith students receive need and/or merit-based assistance and said that she believes “we all benefit from financial diversity as much as any other form of diversity.”
Dr. Allen said that access and affordability is an important consideration for her, especially when “the low level and declining value of Pell funding have created a dramatic impediment to students for whom affordability is a lynchpin in their decision to go to college.” Her hope is that students can see the importance of “advocating for themselves and others from different circumstances.”
“I hope our students have the intellect and compassion to know that differential finances dramatically impact those who do and do not go to college,” she said, “and that college educated citizenry is a benefit to all.”
By Shae-Lynn Henderson, Staff Writer