Pell Grants Are the Lifeblood of African-American Higher Education

Since 1976 federal Pell Grants, named after Rhode Island Senator Claiborne Pell who championed the cause of making college more affordable, have provided money for tens of millions of low-income students. The latest data obtained by JBHE from the U.S. Department of Education shows that in the 2008-09 academic year, nearly 6.4 million students received Pell Grants. While students from the lowest income levels are eligible for awards of up to $5,350, the average Pell Grant in 2008-09 was $2,842. The federal government awarded more than $18 billion in Pell Grant awards in the 2008-09 academic year.

About 46 percent of all African-American undergraduate students receive federal Pell Grant awards. They account for approximately one quarter of all Pell Grant recipients. All told, it appears that blacks received more than $4.5 billion in federal Pell Grants during the 2008-09 academic year. This is a huge sum of money that greatly eases the financial burden faced by more than 1 million black college students each year.