EPI's weekly illustration of education data trends — November 6, 2014

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Maximum and Average Pell Grant

in 2012 Dollars, 1976-77 to 2012-13

The Pell Grant has served as the foundational piece of the US Student Financial Aid System for over four decades. Introduced in 1972 as the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant (BEOG) and renamed after Senator Claiborne Pell in 1980, the Pell Grant provides students with direct assistence that flows through institutions, allowing them to "vote with their feet" in terms of where they attend and spend their allocated funds. However, the Pell Grant has not faired well over time, considering the rising costs of going to college in the United States. As can be seen in the graphic below, the Maximum Pell Grant allowed by Congress remains at $5,550, about equivalent to how it was authorized back in the mid-1970s after adjusting for inflation. But the maximum Pell Grant, as important as that ceiling remains, does not tell the story as well as the average Pell Grant, which in 2012-13 averaged $3,650. Certainly enough to help with costs associated with two-year institutions, but not much to help with the tuition and fees, let alone cost of attendance, of a four-year public or private institution.

SOURCE: The College Board's Trends in Student Aid, 2013.