Congressman Salud Carbajal’s Degrees Not Debt Act, officially introduced at a press conference held at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo last Tuesday, would increase the maximum Federal Pell Grant award by $3,805 — raising it from $6,195 to $10,000.
The bill aims to “give middle-class families access to the maximum Federal Pell Grant” and “increase college transparency,” according to the bill’s text.
Efforts to increase the Pell Grant award have been introduced in Congress before; Congressman Carbajal introduced the Middle Class Creating Higher Education Affordability Necessary to Compete Economically (C.H.A.N.C.E.) Act on May 1, 2017, which would have increased the maximum award for Pell Grants, but the bill did not make it past that session of Congress. The Degrees Not Debt Act of 2018, introduced by Senator Martin Heinrich on June 6, 2018, also fell short in that session.
Carbajal, a UC Santa Barbara alumnus, relied on Pell Grants to help pay for his college degree and “understands firsthand the difficulty students face when contemplating how to afford a higher education,” according to his personal website. The new $10,000 amount is meant to reflect the average cost of in-state tuition at public, four-year institutions.
“We can’t wait any longer to act on student debt, and the Degrees Not Debt Act is a solid way to make financial aid and college more accessible to more people. The cost to attend UCSB as an in-state student is more than $12,000, but the Pell Grant currently caps off at $6,195,” Carbajal wrote in a statement to the Nexus.
“We have to do more for our students, and I’m glad to have worked with student advocates across the state over the past year to make this idea a reality.”
The re-introduction of a bill to increase the maximum amount of the Federal Pell Grant award comes during a time when conversations about both tuition and student debt are subjects of heavy debate on the national stage. This past summer, Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders both introduced plans to cancel student debt.
Approximately 72% of UCSB students received some form of financial aid through the university during the 2018-19 school year, according to UCSB’s campus profile.
“I think it’s a really big increase,” External Vice President for Statewide Affairs Daevionne Beasley said. “That is a lot of money, especially to a low-income student, these thousands of dollars matter.”
“The aid is only a bandaid to the larger institutional problem of charging people astronomical amounts of money for a good education,” he added. “I will always be an advocate for free college and free tuition… but until we can get to that point, the more financial aid, the better.”
While the EVPSA office’s legislative agenda has not been finalized yet, Beasley said that the EVPSA office will be advocating for the Degrees Not Debt Act on future lobbying trips.
A version of this article appeared on pg. 4 of the Oct. 17, 2019 print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Updated [Oct. 19, 2:16 p.m.]