I'm Clay Pell, a lawyer and the former Deputy Assistant Secretary for International and Foreign Language Education in the United States Department of Education. My Grandfather was the Senator responsible for the Pell Grant, and on its 50th birthday I wanted to answer your questions about the history and significance of the program. I'm here in a nonpartisan and nonpolitical capacity, so I'll mainly be talking about the the impact the Pell Grant has had. I'll start answering questions around 7 PM EST, so ask away!

Comments: 189 • Responses: 11  • Date: 

homepup363 karma

As a former recipient of the Pell Grant (which was honestly the only way I could afford college at all and am extremely thankful for it), roughly how many people in total have made use of this grant over the 50 years?

Pell50thBirthdayAMA293 karma

Thank you for your comment. As of a few years ago, more than 80 million Americans had received a Pell Grant. It is certainly many millions of more now. People have told me how it helped them go to college and build their careers.

moj0e68 karma

Clay, thank you for helping me get through college! We need more people like you and your grandfather!

Pell50thBirthdayAMA86 karma

You did the hard work! Thank you for your comment and have a good evening.

ergonaut126 karma

What do you think about student loan forgiveness?

Pell50thBirthdayAMA224 karma

My grandfather's vision for the Pell Grant was that it be a grant for this reason. He was concerned about loans and believed that grants, provided to people who needed them, would help people build or get a fresh start on life.

Cernam122 karma

The Pell Grant is undoubtedly helpful to thousands of students attending college, but with the ever increasing cost of attending college, it seems like it is losing its effectiveness. What do you think can be done to keep the Pell Grant effective?

Pell50thBirthdayAMA62 karma

Thank you so much for the question. A lot of people have shared with me over the years the difference the Pell Grant made in their lives. And you're right -- more could be done to meet the rising costs of college. But the first thing I would say is not to forget the impact that these grants are still having. Every dollar really does matter to students who need them.

rbkc1234576 karma

When I got Pell Grant to go to college, it covered my tuition. Couldn't have made it without that. But when my kids got it, the amount was about the same even though tuition had gone up so much! Ought it have been indexed to tuition (or vice versa, tuition only allowed to be = Pell Grant for recipients or for everyone)?

Pell50thBirthdayAMA61 karma

Thank you so much for the question. The cost of higher education has definitely increased much faster than the grant. That said, I think it is worth keeping in mind that many many millions of Americans are in community colleges and relatively affordable institutions where the Pell Grant really still does cover costs. And even for more expensive schools, people tell me how every dollar still matters. But you raise good questions about the cost and that's something I'd like to think about more.

ilikecakeandpie16 karma

I most likely would not have attended college without the Pell Grant being made available and I am extremely thankful for it.

What adjustments do you think need to be made in order to ensure a high quality of education while also keeping costs from becoming exorbitant at state schools?

Pell50thBirthdayAMA8 karma

Thank you for your comment. My grandfather would be so happy to hear that. Keep up the good work!! Access and quality are both really important. On the whole, my grandfather's vision for the Pell Grant was that it be a grant that students could use on their own careers and dreams. It was not a loan nor was it an institutional grant. He believed in the students themselves and the power of education to transform lives.

ShakaUVM16 karma

Community Colleges can provide an education as good as a regular 4 year at 25%-50% the cost of most four years.

I see the big problem right now being the federal government believing 4 year colleges as to how much education actually costs whereas it's proven these colleges are inflating their costs to get paid more by the government.

What would you say to the Pell grant only being used at colleges where the spending on direct instruction is as efficient as that of a regular community college in the same region?

Pell50thBirthdayAMA23 karma

My understanding is that a huge percentage (maybe most!) of Pell Grant recipients are at community colleges. And Pell Grants really cover the typical costs at community college. So Pell Grants are really a mainstay for community colleges.

ArmchairExperts6 karma

What was the most surprising thing about working at the Department of Education?

Did people often make the connection between your name and the grants when you worked there?

Pell50thBirthdayAMA7 karma

Not always! Sometimes people think Pell is an acronym. Growing up, people would tell me what a difference this program made for them. Knowing that a person was behind makes me realize how this very well might not have happened at all.

Pm_me_40k_humor6 karma

First, thank you.

Second, do you have an ear on this stuff still? And if so do you k ow if there are similar reforms in the pipeline?

Pell50thBirthdayAMA9 karma

I know that the Pell Grant is still the largest grant for people to earn a higher education. And people do so younger and later in life, and because it is means-tested, it really does make the difference in whether people can go to college. Over the years, loans have grown exponentially as a complement. My grandfather was always very concerned about loans.

NotAFederales6 karma

NPR did a special today about the 5pth anniversary of Title IX.

Possibly a stupid question, but was it the same bill that created the Pell Grant?

Pell50thBirthdayAMA9 karma

My understanding is that these became law together. The Pell Grant itself was inspired by my grandfather's service in the military and the GI-Bill that provided higher education opportunities to vets.

HotTopicRebel5 karma

Thank you for time. If you could pass along a message to your grandfather regarding the impacts or effects of the grant while it was being created, what would you want him to know? Would you want any changes made?

Pell50thBirthdayAMA11 karma

I would want him to know how much a difference it continues to make in people's lives. The Pell Grant is simple but effective. I think that simplicity is part of its strength.