Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Brief urges clarity of Pell Grant source

A letter from the president that makes clear the source of Pell Grants given college students from low-income families could help students appreciate the investment U.S. taxpayers are making in them, faculty affiliate Sara Goldrick-Rab argues in a new policy brief.

"Have the President of the United States send an annual letter to each and every Pell recipient — explaining that the Pell program represents the investment of America's taxpayers in the student's college education, made possible because families across the country worked hard in their jobs and paid taxes to make sure all young people who are prepared can have a fair shot at achieving a college education," Goldrick-Rab says in the brief released August 7 by the Scholars Strategy Network.

"The Pell Grant, the letter should spell out, promises continuing support in return for 'your' continued hard work and good faith effort to complete college. In essence, the letter would declare, the nation cares about you and is investing in you – and wants you to work hard and make good on our investment," Goldrick-Rab continues in the brief, "Pell Grants are America's Investment in Needy Yet Promising College Students -- Why Not Tell Them?"

Her research finds that college students generally are unaware of the source of their college aid. A letter from the president explaining the federal portion as a gift from taxpayers could set high expectations for students and give them a psychological — as well as financial — boost, Goldrick-Rab says. "America should rediscover the power of symbolic gift-giving today, by improving the clarity and moral force of the messages we send to the needy college students helped by federal grants."