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The FAFSA Simplification Act, passed as part of a broader pandemic relief package in early 2021, is the culmination of years of efforts to simplify access to federal Pell Grants. Under the new rules, prospective students will have a better understanding of whether they will receive a Pell Grant based primarily on their family size and income. These changes ensure that most low-income students receive the largest possible grant without significantly changing the overall distribution of grants.

A bipartisan agreement to simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which students must fill out to qualify for federal grants and loans, reduces the number of questions from 108 to 36, guarantees minimum or maximum Pell Grants for students whose family income is below a certain threshold based on the federal poverty level and changes the formula used to determine eligibility for student aid (expected family contribution, which it renames the Student Aid Index). These changes will take effect in the 2024-2025 school year.

Apply For Federal Pell Grant

To understand how the new formula affects student Pell Grants, we used data (for 2015-2016) and simulations from our Pell Grant Reform Simulator to estimate the impact of three major changes. First, the maximum Pell Grant (currently $6,495 per year for full-time enrollment) will be automatically awarded to applicants from families earning less than twice the federal poverty level for their family size and. Second, a minimum scholarship (about $650) will be guaranteed to students from families with incomes below 275, 325, 350 or 400 percent of the poverty level, depending on the family structure. Finally, the Student Aid Index (SAI) will no longer lead to an increase in financial aid for families with multiple children in college.

Year Round Pell Grant

Overall, the new Pell simplification policy does not significantly change the distribution of Pell grant aid. Our estimates show that most students will receive roughly the same amount of Pell funding as before. The share of students receiving a Pell grant will increase modestly from 42 percent to 45 percent, while the average Pell award amount will remain the same at about $3,900.

While we expect many students to receive a Pell Grant award similar (within $500) to what they would have received previously, some students will see significant changes.

Students in the second ($38–$75,000) and third ($75–$125,000) income quartiles will experience the largest change in Pell awards. First, a small portion of dependent students who were not previously eligible for Pell will receive a small grant. This is due to the minimum grant guarantee, which applies to dependent students from four-parent families with incomes below $73,000 and students from single-parent families with four members earning about $86,000 or less.

Second, repealing the policy that allows more generous need calculations for families with more than one child in college could result in lower Pell awards for a small portion of dependent student families in the second and third income quartiles . Thirteen percent of those who applied for aid as dependent students in the second income quartile could see their Pell award drop by more than $500, and 7 percent of those in the third income quartile could see the same decrease. However, this only brings the new rules for siblings closer. Other adjustments (PDF) that we do not model, such as an increase in the Income Protection Allowance—the amount of income that households can shield from settlement when calculating the benefit—could offset much of this effect.

The Pell Grant Explained

A significant proportion (12 percent) of independent students without children will receive increased award amounts compared to what they would have received under the previous formula. This is likely due to Pell’s maximum automatic guarantee, which provides Pell’s full award to independent single students with incomes below $22,500.

One of the drawbacks of the current Pell formula is that most students don’t know how much they’ll get until they fill out the FAFSA, which many don’t know until they decide where to go to college. As a result, college can seem out of reach for students who would have received a significant grant but are unaware of it.

The changes to the formula will make it much easier to communicate with students about their potential eligibility for the maximum Pell Award before they complete the FAFSA, and our estimates show that the automatic maximum will reach most low-income students. Among students who would receive the highest possible award under the new formula, about five out of six would receive it automatically based on family income and family size (the rest would receive it based on the most complex, which takes into account additional factors). That means high schools, educational nonprofits and others can reach out to low-income families and give them a better understanding of the help they’ll receive.

Overall, 76 percent of Pell recipients will receive the maximum, 16 percent will receive the minimum, and 8 percent will receive an amount in between. This is a significant change from the current formula, which sees 60 percent of Pell recipients receive the maximum award.

Pell Grants — A Key Tool For Expanding College Access And Economic Opportunity — Need Strengthening, Not Cuts

Receiving a Pell Grant increasingly makes it easier to qualify for other benefits, such as Internet discounts offered through the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program or increased likelihood of emergency financial assistance (PDF) under the CARES Act. This means that the minimum Pell guarantee will also translate into a guaranteed benefit from the EBB and other programs similarly tied to Pell.

Overall, we believe the FAFSA Simplification Act does what it says on the tin: Starting in 2024-2025, most students will receive awards similar to what they receive today without having to answer as many questions on the FAFSA. And most students who are eligible for the maximum award may know before they even open the FAFSA.

This evidence, combined with research showing that reducing the complexity and uncertainty surrounding financial aid can increase college enrollment, suggests that changes to be implemented in the coming years could help significantly improve the educational outcomes of students with seven was low-income.

The Institute has the evidence to show what it will take to create a society where everyone has a fair chance to achieve their vision of success. Federal Pell Grants, which provide need-based aid to help low- and moderate-income students pay for college, are expected to be part of any legislation that would rehabilitate higher education programs. In the 2017-18 academic year, about 7 million students received Pell Grants, about one-third of all graduate students. According to the Department of Education, the average cost was about $4,000.

Understanding Pell Grants

Pell Grants make up the majority of federal aid to undergraduate students. For funding and budget purposes, the program receives discretionary and mandatory funding.

A student’s Pell award amount is calculated without taking into account other aid, such as federal loans or state grants, that the student may receive. Federal Pell spending is expected to reach about $29 billion in fiscal year 2019.

A large number of Pell recipients are non-traditional students who may be older and may juggle work and family responsibilities while in school. According to the most recent data from the College Board, about 43% of Pell recipients were over 23 years old. A slight majority of recipients are not claimed as dependents on anyone’s tax returns, and 30% have dependents of their own.

Pell Grant funding follows the student who receives it at the school where they attend. The Department of Education reported that in 2017-18, about 41% of Pell Grant money went to four-year public schools, 30% to two-year public schools, and the remaining 29% to private and for-profit schools.

Federal Pell Grant

Several factors determine a student’s Pell award, including cost of attendance, expected family contribution, and whether the student is enrolled full-time or part-time. Over the course of a lifetime, a student can receive Pell Grants for an amount equivalent to 12 full-time semesters or six years. Therefore, a student enrolled part-time can receive Pell aid for a longer period of time.

For the 2019-20 award year, the maximum Pell Grant amount is $6,195. An eligible student may receive additional funding if enrolled in year-round classes, such as summer. Additional year-round Pell Grant credits count toward a student’s lifetime Pell eligibility.

Graduation rates among Pell Grant students are limited, but a 2017 Brookings Institution analysis of Department of Education data on full-time students attending four-year colleges found: “The average six-year graduation rate for Pell recipients in May the sample was 51.4 percent, compared to 59.2 percent for non-Pell recipients.

In the FY 2017 appropriations bill, Congress restored year-round Pell Grant eligibility, allowing for additional grant funding that some students use to stay enrolled year-round. About 762,000 students received supplemental scholarships in 2017-2018, and the average amount was $1,500, according to the Department of Education. It may be too early to see how year-round Pell will affect college enrollment and graduation rates, but the goal was to help students finish college and get into

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