Nashville, TN (TN Tribune)–Vanderbilt University Chancellor Daniel Diermeier led 66 other leaders of Tennessee’s colleges and universities today in sending a letter to the Tennessee congressional delegation urging them to make an affordable, high-quality college education more attainable for students by doubling the maximum Pell Grant award and permanently indexing the grant to inflation to ensure that its value will no longer diminish over time.

“Pell Grants play a vital role in helping students achieve the immense opportunities that come with the ability to obtain a higher education,” Diermeier said. “Vanderbilt is proud to lead our fellow Tennessee institutions in the call to expand and protect this critical resource for students across the nation. Anyone with the desire and the drive to learn should be able to do so, regardless of their economic circumstances.”

For students of color and students with family incomes of less than $50,000, the Pell Grant is a critical program that, as the authors note, “carries the power to break the cycle of poverty in the lives of so many Tennesseans.” Nationally, the funds have been awarded to nearly 7 million low- and moderate-income students, and in Tennessee alone nearly $550 million in funds have been awarded to more than 133,000 postsecondary students. At Vanderbilt during the 2020–21 academic year, 19 percent of first-time college students were Pell-eligible, and for the cohort of Pell recipients entering in 2015, there was a 90 percent six-year graduation rate.

“Today, we believe the single most effective way to make higher education more accessible and affordable is by significantly increasing the maximum Pell Grant award. This long overdue investment will help to drive economic recovery and mobility, address racial and economic inequities in college completion rates, and increase overall educational attainment,” the authors wrote. “Furthermore, by directing federal taxpayer resources toward this proven, means-tested program, we will preserve students’ ability to choose the institution that best meets their needs—whether it be a research university, a liberal arts college, an HBCU or a community college.”

The letter calls attention to a few examples of Tennessee Pell Grant recipients who, upon graduation, continued on to graduate school or entered high-demand career fields in health care, business, education and others. One such student from Middle Tennessee is doing just that at Vanderbilt University. The student was valedictorian from a large high school who took the most rigorous high school curriculum available, achieved the highest level in scouting, was actively involved in their church and participated in numerous extracurricular activities. These tremendous accomplishments also happened while the student worked at a part-time job throughout the pandemic to pay for their extracurricular activities and help support their family. A Pell Grant, coupled with institutional aid from Opportunity Vanderbilt, is allowing the student to pursue a degree in the College of Arts and Science—an important step toward their lifelong career goal of going into business.

The Office of Federal Relations led the drafting of the #DoublePell letter to the Tennessee congressional delegation as part of its ongoing advocacy work to #DoublePell. OFR will continue to work with the many in-state partners, as well as with the national Double Pell Alliance, in urging Congress to double the maximum size of the Pell Grant award.

“We have been proud to partner with our national associations and coalitions to strongly advocate for a doubling of the maximum Pell Grant award and are pleased to have so many leaders from across Tennessee join us in this effort,” said Christina West, associate vice chancellor for federal relations. “The Pell Grant program enjoys strong, bipartisan support from both the public and policymakers because it has been so successful in opening the doors of higher education to students while preserving their ability to attend the institution that best meets their needs. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the program this June, it is time for Congress to double the maximum Pell Grant.”

A recent national survey from the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities showed that 65 percent of registered voters say they support the Pell Grant program while just 5 percent oppose it. The survey also found strong bipartisan support for increasing or doubling the program. In a split sample test—where half of respondents heard one version of the question and the other heard another—82 percent support “expanding” Pell, and 75 percent support “doubling” the Pell Grant. This widespread support crosses political lines, according to the news release.

Leaders from the following institutions signed the letter:

  • American Baptist College
  • Austin Peay State University
  • Baptist Health Sciences University
  • Belmont University
  • Bethel University
  • Bryan College
  • Carson-Newman University
  • Chattanooga State Community College
  • Christian Brothers University
  • Columbia State Community College
  • Cumberland University
  • Dyersburg State Community College
  • East Tennessee State University
  • Fisk University
  • Freed-Hardeman University
  • Jackson State Community College
  • King University
  • Lane College
  • Lee University
  • Lincoln Memorial University
  • Lipscomb University
  • Maryville College
  • Middle Tennessee School of Anesthesia
  • Middle Tennessee State University
  • Milligan University
  • Moore Tech
  • Motlow State Community College
  • Nashville State Community College
  • Northeast State Community College
  • Pellissippi State Community College
  • Rhodes College
  • Roane State Community College
  • Southern Adventist University
  • Southwest Tennessee Community College
  • Tennessee Board of Regents – The College System of TN
  • Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Athens
  • Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Covington/Ripley/Newbern
  • Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Crump
  • Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Elizabethton
  • Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Harriman
  • Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Hohenwald
  • Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Jacksboro
  • Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Jackson
  • Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Murfreesboro
  • Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Oneida/Huntsville
  • Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Shelbyville
  • Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Dickson
  • Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association
  • Tennessee State University
  • Tennessee Tech University
  • Tennessee Wesleyan University
  • The University of Memphis
  • The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
  • The University of Tennessee at Martin
  • The University of Tennessee Health Science Center
  • The University of Tennessee Southern
  • Trevecca Nazarene University
  • Tusculum University
  • University of Tennessee
  • University of Tennessee, Knoxville
  • University of the South
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Volunteer State Community College
  • Walters State Community College
  • Williamson College