Features
About this project
Pell Grant Reform Simulator
February 13, 2019

Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act gives Congress the opportunity to modernize the Pell grant program, which makes college more affordable for low-income students.

With this tool, users can simulate the effects of modifications to the Pell program to see how program costs and grant amounts would change and which students would be affected. Users can change the program’s generosity within the current formula or experiment with a simplified system.

Simplified Formula
Change Maximum Pell
CHOOSE YOUR APPROACH
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Change Maximum Pell
Pell grants are currently calculated by subtracting an estimate of what families can pay, known as the “expected family contribution,” from the maximum grant amount, which is $6,095 for the 2018–19 school year. The formula also adjusts for cost of attendance and number of credits students take. Use the slider below to change the maximum Pell grant amount within the current formula.
Baseline value
Maximum Pell grant
Change the maximum Pell grant amount
Annual program cost
Program cost over 10 years
Income
RACE OR ETHNICITY
Institutional Sector
Parents’ Education
FEDERAL BENEFIT RECEIPT
PARENTAL STATUS OF INDEPENDENT STUDENTS
Change Maximum Pell
Pell grants are currently calculated by subtracting an estimate of what families can pay, known as the “expected family contribution,” from the maximum grant amount, which is $6,095 for the 2018–19 school year. The formula also adjusts for cost of attendance and number of credits students take. Use the slider below to change the maximum Pell grant amount within the current formula.
Baseline value
Maximum Pell grant
Change the maximum Pell grant amount
Annual program cost
Program cost over 10 years
Income
RACE OR ETHNICITY
Institutional Sector
Parents’ Education
FEDERAL BENEFIT RECEIPT
PARENTAL STATUS OF INDEPENDENT STUDENTS
Simplified Formula
Some experts and policymakers have proposed moving to a simplified calculation of Pell grants to reduce the burden of applying for aid and to make aid amounts more transparent and predictable. Here, we model a “two-factor” formula, where Pell grants are calculated based on income relative to the federal poverty level (which accounts for family size). To make this formula more generous or less generous, users can adjust the maximum grant size, the income level at which students begin receiving less than the maximum amount, and the level at which students are no longer eligible.
Baseline value
Maximum Pell grant
Change the maximum Pell grant amount
Phaseout begins
Choose the income level (as a share of the federal poverty level) at which Pell grants start phasing out
Phaseout ends
Choose the income level (as a share of the federal poverty level) at which students are no longer eligible for Pell grants
Annual program cost
Program cost over 10 years
Income
RACE OR ETHNICITY
Institutional Sector
Parents’ Education
FEDERAL BENEFIT RECEIPT
PARENTAL STATUS OF INDEPENDENT STUDENTS
About the data

This simulator tool is based on analyses of the 2015–16 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, a nationally representative dataset collected by the US Department of Education. We then simulated 2018–19 Pell awards as our baseline as a better point of comparison for changes to current policy.

More details on the data and methodology, including sample selection, adjustment of grants for enrollment intensity and cost of attendance, and calculation of budget estimates, can be found in the technical appendix.

Download data
Technical appendix
PROJECT CREDITS

This feature was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. We are grateful to them and to all our funders, who make it possible for Urban to advance its mission. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders. Funders do not determine research findings or the insights and recommendations of our experts. More information on our funding principles is available here. Read our terms of service here.

RESEARCH
DESIGN
Allison Feldman
DEVELOPMENT
Ben Chartoff
EDITING
David Hinson
WRITING
Serena Lei