The Pell Grant turns 50
The benefit millions of undergrads rely on to afford college reaches a major milestone. Plus: Title IX celebrates an anniversary amid an anti-LGBTQ+ backlash that suggests the law could use an update.
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In this week’s post, I focus on two major education-related 50-year anniversaries within the context of the current cost of living and the conservative backlash against LGBTQ+ equality.
First things first:
President Joe Biden on Monday afternoon told reporters that he is close to making a decision on student debt relief. While he said he’s keeping his options open, Biden is expected to cancel far less than the $50,000 progressive and civil rights leaders have been pushing for and there will likely be an income threshold to determine eligibility.
Ahead of the busy July 4th travel weekend, the White House is looking for the most effective ways to exercise its limited authority to lower gas costs. One idea under consideration is a gas tax holiday, which theoretically could reduce prices at the pump, and was a topic of discussion between President Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. But critics argue that oil companies wouldn’t pass along the savings to consumers and instead pocket them as profits and a pause on the gas tax pause would dry up one of the revenue streams to implement Biden’s infrastructure law. The president said he hopes to make a decision by the end of the week.
Text of the gun safety legislation that a bipartisan group of senators have been negotiating in the aftermath of mass shootings in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas could be released today. Based on when the text is available, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer will set up the procedural votes required to advance the bill for final passage, which Democrats want to occur by the end of the week. The House will still have to take action before President Biden can sign it into law, which could bleed into Congress’s upcoming two-week recess, but he said on Monday he’s confident that the bill is close to coming to fruition.
Workers at an Apple Store in Maryland over the weekend voted to unionize making it the first of the company’s stores to do so. Once the vote is certified by the National Labor Relations Board, the union and Apple can start negotiating a contract but it’s unclear if Apple will bargain with the union. President Biden, whom his administration describes as the most worker-friendly president ever, said he was proud of the workers and that everybody is better off when they can determine their working conditions.
Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday made a surprise visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture where she met kids ages four to 10 at the NMAAHC’s Juneteenth Celebration. (One young girl got overwhelmed and started crying when Harris spoke to her. ) The vice president said the holiday was not a celebration of Black people being granted their God-given liberty but an opportunity to speak about freedom and slavery within an honest historical context.
As President Biden readies his decision on student debt cancelation, there’s another form of financial aid that’s in the spotlight this week.
The Pell Grant, which helps undergraduate students from low-income households pay for college with money that doesn’t have to be paid back to the federal government, turns 50 this Thursday.
“For fifty years, Pell Grants have been a lifeline for students and families across the country — helping tens of millions of students and families like mine afford college and complete degrees,” Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and chair of the Senate committee on education said in a statement to Supercreator. “I’m so proud to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Pell Grants program and I’m going to keep fighting for Pell Grants and working to make them go even further for students with the tightest budgets.”
The Pell Grant, administered by the Education Department and formerly known as the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant before it was renamed in 1980 as a tribute to the late former Democratic Sen. Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island, is one of the most common forms of financial aid.
It is often supplemented with other grants, loans and work-study programs students can access to pay for their college expenses. Eligibility is determined based on a review of an application that reports a student’s ability to pay the costs of a year of higher education. This estimate, along with the cost of attendance, a student’s status as a full- or part-time student and their plans to attend school for a full academic year or less, factor into the grant amount awarded. (The maximum Pell Grant award for the 2022-23 award year, which starts July 1, is $6,895; the minimum is $650.) Schools can apply Pell Grant funds to their school costs, pay students directly or combine these methods; students must remain enrolled in an undergraduate program and submit an application for federal student aid to maintain eligibility.
More than 75 percent of undergraduate students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities rely on Pell Grants to pay for college expenses compared to 39 percent of all US graduate students, according to the National Institute for Economic Development. As part of President Biden’s push for equitable policies across the federal government, he called for and Congress passed a $400 increase to the maximum award — a bump the White House says expanded access to nearly 6.7 million students. And the Education Department has expanded the Second Chance Pell Program, which provides awards to incarcerated students, to 200 participating schools ahead of its full expansion in July 2023.
In his budget for the upcoming fiscal year, Biden proposed to double the maximum Pell Grant amount by 2029 — beginning with a more than $2,000 increase in the academic year 2023-24 — to provide direct benefits to many of the more than 70 percent of Black students, almost half of Latino students, and half of Native students put themselves through college.
There’s no guarantee Congress will approve this proposal, especially if the prognosticators are correct in their predictions that Republicans will win back at least the House after this November’s midterm elections. And if you ask some recent graduates, they’ll tell you the amount of these grants has insufficiently kept up with the rising cost of college. (An analysis of College Board data by Donald E. Heller of The Conversation, a nonprofit, independent news organization, said that even with the $400 boost Congress passed earlier this year, Pell Grants cover less than 30 percent. Of the costs at a public university and less than 20 percent at private institutions — falling far short of its original goal to make college more affordable for low- and middle-income students.)
Even worse, recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA, are ineligible for Pell Grants. For what it’s worth: The Build Back Better Act that passed the House but died in the Senate after Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia ended negotiations with the White House last year would have increased the maximum Pell Grant award by $550 and allowed DACA recipients to apply for grants within the program.
Still, there’s no denying impact of a program that has empowered millions of students to sharpen their creativity with knowledge and skills. So as advocates work to expand the benefit, there’s room to celebrate the opportunities Pell Grants have made possible.
In related news: Also turning 50 this week is Title IX, the civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or any other education program that receives funding from the federal government.
The law has become a lightning rod in recent years as the anti-LGBTQ+ movement has worked to ban transgender athletes from participating in women’s and girls’ sports.
And the attacks seem to be working: On Sunday, the international governing body for aquatic sports announced it would prohibit swimmers who transitioned after age 12 from competing in women’s events. And earlier today, the International Rugby League also announced its decision to bar all trans women from competing until it creates its official “transwomen inclusion policy” in 2023. (Also worth noting, as I reported in March: Many of these bans focus on trans girls and not trans boys, which perpetuates the misogyny that cisgender women are already all too familiar with.)
While the debate carries on in the broader culture, the Education Department will host a Title IX field day for Washington DC and Baltimore area students to mark the occasion and teach them how Title IX impacts their lives. Prior to this event, First Lady Jill Biden— a champion of Pell Grants for the pathways to community colleges they create — will join tennis champion and equality activist Billie Jean King for a celebration of the landmark legislation in Washington DC.
Read All About It
Amil Niazi on the case for mandated paternity leave for dads:
There’s an assumption that caring for a new baby is the purview of the mom. She’s expected to be fluent in the language of child-rearing even though, in the beginning, it’s just as foreign to her as it is to her partner. And it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: She becomes the de facto expert because she spends the most time figuring out the solutions; then, because she knows what to do, she’s always left to do it. But there’s a way, I think, to break that loop. Where I have seen the scales balance out a little more, with my husband and with many of our friends, there’s been one common factor: dads who took parental leave.
It’s so clear, from the formula shortage to the looming threat to abortion access, that far too many men, despite being fathers, remain ignorant about how child care actually works. You will never know the haunting prospect of a hungry infant until you’re responsible for feeding that child. You will always see a forced pregnancy as something trivial until that life you mandated into the world is your sole responsibility. Any solutions that address the modern parenting crisis have to shift the burden off women and lead with the understanding that care work is work and it’s universal. And it has to begin at the very beginning. Children are not a woman’s problem, but for too long, even the most progressive men have made it so. We’re in it together or we’re not in it at all.
Roni Caryn Rabin on the rise of uterine cancer in Black women:
Cancer of the uterus, also called endometrial cancer, is increasing so rapidly that it is expected to displace colorectal cancer by 2040 as the third most common cancer among women, and the fourth-leading cause of women’s cancer deaths.
The mortality rate has been increasing by almost 2 percent a year overall, with even sharper spikes among Asian, Hispanic and Black women, according to a recent study in JAMA Oncology. Despite the increase, there has been little public attention to the disease.
Overall survival rates are high when uterine cancer is detected early, but few women are aware that a change in menstrual bleeding, before or after menopause, is one of the main warning signs, along with pelvic pain and painful urination and intercourse.
Uterine cancer was long believed to be less common among Black women. But newer studies have confirmed that it is not only more likely to strike Black women, but also more likely to be deadly.
Jeff Goodell on the global food crisis:
Without enough food, there is only hunger, chaos, and violence. Russian President Vladimir Putin not only knows this better than anyone, he has also weaponized it. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he has deliberately disrupted the country’s wheat supply, triggering a global food crisis. Ukraine is the sixth-largest exporter of wheat in the world, and — by blockading Ukrainian ports, blowing up rail lines, stealing grain, and killing farmers — Putin has effectively taken about 20 million tons of wheat off the market. Global wheat production is about 850 million tons, so this is hardly enough to cause a global famine. But it is enough to cause the price of wheat to jump more than 60 percent already this year. In the U.S., where the average American spends less than 10 percent of their income on food, this will hardly be noticeable. But for people in the developing world, many of whom spend 40 percent or more of their income on food, that could mean the difference between eating and going hungry. High food prices have already had a devastating impact in poor nations, pushing 20 million people into starvation in sub-Saharan Africa alone, and sparking riots in Sri Lanka.
This crisis, however, is in some sense artificial, given that it is not driven by any actual shortage of food in the world. Even with the Ukrainian wheat off the market, there is still plenty of grain to go around. The issue is all about how much it costs and how it is distributed. And Putin is not the only one who is exploiting this situation. Commodity traders make money off wild price swings, shippers make money off people desperate for grain, fertilizer manufacturers make money off farmers desperate to maximize their yields, and proto-fascist politicians are happy to exploit rising food prices as evidence of the failure of democracy.
In this sense, Putin represents a danger to the world that is far greater than an immediate spike in wheat prices. Putin’s empire is financed by Russia’s vast reserves of oil and gas, which are the main reason why the planet is warming so quickly. And a hotter world is a hungrier world. “Putin is a chaos agent,” says Ruth Ben-Ghiat, author of Strongmen: From Mussolini to the Present. And nothing says chaos quite like millions of hungry people on a rapidly warming planet.
The tragedy is, it doesn’t have to be this way. America is the Saudi Arabia of food. We could cure world hunger in six months if we wanted to. But our food system is not engineered for the greatest good. It is engineered for the greatest good of those who control the food supply. Or, as Oxfam’s director in Somalia, Senait Gebregziabher, once put it: “Famines are not natural phenomena, they are catastrophic political failures.”
M. Nolan Gray on how zoning broke the American city:
Of all the problems that zoning causes or exacerbates, none has attracted greater attention than the cost of housing — and for good reason. In 2021 alone, home prices rose by nearly 20 percent. Over the same period, rents also skyrocketed, prompting fears of a surge in homelessness. Once contained to the coasts, the crisis is spreading inland; home prices in previously affordable cities have hit record highs. Researchers across a range of disciplines now broadly agree that bad zoning policies are in no small part to blame.
Boring though it may be, zoning has real-world effects that are dire. Between mandating parking garages and banning apartments, it has made infill development prohibitively difficult in many American cities. And in suburbs across the country, it has made the starter homes we so desperately need—think townhouses and homes on small lots — effectively illegal to build. If Americans want a fairer, more prosperous nation, zoning has got to go.
The housing-affordability crisis is, at its most basic, a problem of supply and demand: A lot of people need homes, but not enough are being built, resulting in rising prices for existing supply. New homes aren’t going unbuilt because of developers’ ignorance or a lack of land — developers are desperate to build in expensive cities, and they can always build up when they can’t build out. Instead, homes are going unbuilt because of zoning.
Benji Jones on why investors suddenly care about saving the environment:
Here’s a big number: $44 trillion.
That’s how much of the world’s total economic output is dependent on animals and ecosystems, according to the World Economic Forum. Insects pollinate commercial crops, coral reefs protect coastal buildings, wetlands purify water, and all of those services — and more — help fuel economic growth.
If the economy is embedded in nature, then the global decline of wildlife and ecosystems is a risk for companies and investors alike. If insects vanish from farmland, say, farmers might have to pay to import pollinators or produce less, which hurts their bottom lines. That’s one reason why WEF ranks “biodiversity loss” as the third most severe risk to the economy over the next decade, after failure to act on climate change and extreme weather.
Elamin Abdelmahmoud on how movies are suffering because Hollywood has become too safe:
Are you exhausted yet? We seem to have arrived at the nadir of original stories, a cultural moment where many of the TV shows and movies feature names and characters we already know. It does not matter how well we know them — it just matters that the audience is already familiar with the world. We are living through the age of peak intellectual property. Hollywood has learned the safe route, found a reliable pattern: Every time studios push this button, $13 comes out. Why wouldn’t they keep pushing it? But at what cost to originality?