April 22, 2015


Hirono Plan Fights Back Against Endless Efforts to Slash the Critical Pell Grant Program that Makes College More Affordable for Low-Income Students

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senator Mazie K. Hirono is rolling out her comprehensive plan to permanently protect and expand the Pell Grant program. For over 40 years, the Pell Grant program has been foundational to putting higher education within reach for students from low-income backgrounds across the country. The Pell Grant program has transformed lives by giving students the economic assistance they needed to reach their full potential and earn a college degree. Since the 2008 recession, more students than ever have been using Pell Grants to help pay for college.

Unfortunately for the over 8 million students and their families that use Pell Grants across the country, including over 23,000 in Hawaii, the Pell Grant program is put on the chopping block by Republicans time and time again. Instead of cuts and uncertainty, students deserve to know that they will be able to count on Pell Grants each and every year to help pay for college.

Senator Hirono’s plan is composed of four legislative bills that would protect and expand the Pell Grant program for students:

Year-Round Pell Grant Restoration Act: The Year-Round Pell Grant Restoration Act would let students use Pell Grants for three semesters each academic year, rather than the current law’s limit of two semesters. Before Congress cut Year-Round Pell Grants in 2011, over 1 million students across the country, including over 1,600 in Hawaii, used Pell Grants to pay for college for three semesters in an academic year. Research shows that students who take courses continuously over the summer were three times more likely to complete a degree.  The bill is cosponsored by Senators Ed Markey and Jack Reed. 

Pell Grant Cost of Tuition Adjustment Act: The Pell Grant Cost of Tuition Adjustment Act would increase the maximum Pell Grant for the 2014-2015 school year from $5,730 under current law to $9,139, the same as the average cost of in-state tuition and fees at a four-year college. The bill would also index future amounts to inflation using the same formula Social Security uses for its annual cost of living adjustment. The bill is cosponsored by Senator Ed Markey.

Pell Grant Protection Act: The Pell Grant Protection Act would fund Pell Grants by mandatory spending, just like Social Security. Currently, Congress is forced to decide the level of Pell Grants each year, and funds Pell Grants through mostly discretionary spending and a small mandatory add-on. While Republican budget plans aim to slash Pell Grants and end the small mandatory add-on, this bill would fund the entire Pell Grant program through mandatory spending. The bill is cosponsored by Senator Ed Markey.

College Options for DREAMers Act: The College Options for DREAMers Act would let DREAMer students—who came to this country as children and attended U.S. high schools—access the same Pell Grants, student loans, work-study, and other federal financial aid that other academically qualified Americans can access. In 2013, Sen. Hirono passed a version of this bill as an amendment to comprehensive immigration reform. The College Options for DREAMers Act is also cosponsored by Senator Dick Durbin, the original author of the DREAM Act.

“Earning a college degree can be a pathway for those fighting to get into the middle class. Unfortunately, under the Republican majorities in Congress Pell Grants are under the constant threat of irresponsible cuts and dismantlement—even though college today is more expensive than ever,” said Senator Mazie K. Hirono. “Investing in education is one of the smartest investments we can make and students deserve to know they can count on Pell Grants to help pay for college, regardless of their schedules, work, or family commitments. My plan to protect and strengthen Pell Grants will go a long way to ensure every student in Hawaii and across the country has a fair shot at affordable higher education.”

Throughout her career, Senator Hirono has fought to make college more affordable. As a member of the U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee, she helped pass laws to increase the maximum Pell Grant, strengthen income-based student loan repayment, and support Minority-Serving Institutions and community college job training programs. In the U.S. Senate, she first introduced a version of the Pell Grant Protection Act in the 113th Congress.

Education leaders and advocates in Hawaii and nationwide are praising Senator Hirono’s plan to protect and expand Pell Grants:

“These are important legislative proposals to strengthen Pell Grants, America’s foundational federal student aid program. If enacted, this legislation will increase the number of low-income and first-generation students able to earn a college degree,” said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, which represents the presidents of more than 1,600 colleges and universities. “We are pleased to work with Senator Hirono and other proponents as the legislation moves forward.”

"The Pell Grant program is a lifeline to community college for millions of students," said Dr. Walter G. Bumphus, CEO of American Association of Community Colleges. “The awards go farther for our students because of our relatively low tuitions.  The changes contemplated by this legislation would dramatically strengthen and improve the program for community college students and we hope that it can be adopted." 

“A college degree is becoming more difficult for students to afford, despite its growing importance in today’s economy.  NACAC is grateful to Senator Hirono for introducing these bills and her efforts to keep college affordable for millions of students, including first generation students.  NACAC urges Congress to pass these bills as soon as possible so that students can realize their dream of a college education and help ensure a bright future for themselves and their families,” said Joyce Smith, CEO of National Association for College Admission Counseling.

“The United States Student Association once again applauds Senator Hirono for being a consistent champion of affordable and accessible higher education, and ultimately a true champion for students across the country,” said Maxwell John Love, President of the United States Student Association. “Her college affordability package embodies the Pell Grant students envision, namely one that actually covers the cost of tuition, helps students graduate by covering their Summer classes, and raises alongside the rate of inflation.”

“The Pell Grant has supported 28% of the 20,426 students at UH Manoa in the 2012-2013 Academic Year,” said Stephen Nishihara, President of the Associated Students of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “Senator Hirono’s bills that preserve the integrity of the Pell Grant program are a step towards a more educated workforce and an chance for those who are financially disadvantaged to receive the same opportunity to access higher education. I often hear recipients saying they wish the Pell Grant program would cover the summer because it would help them complete their degree on time and allow them to balance a more practical work and study schedule throughout the year. It also breaks my heart to hear that students are not completing their degree because it is a financial burden that they can no longer bear. Education is the silver bullet that America needs to preserve itself as a nation of free people.”

“As a veteran and single mother of two with an associates degree in applied science, I had to start over as a freshmen when attending my public university,” said Krystal Shon, Senator from the College of Arts and Sciences, Associated Students of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “As such, the G.I. Bill covered a generous thirty-six months of my education. However, my bachelor's program requires fourty-eight months to complete the degree. I am currently utilizing the Federal Pell Grant to complete my last year and applying for scholarships. The goal is to graduate. Senator Hirono's college affordability package will grant people the chance to do just that.”

“Despite my mother being disabled, low-income and single, she constantly reinforced the value of college to me throughout my youth,” said Sierra Callihan, Senator of the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Associated Students of the University of Hawaii. “Therefore, I never questioned whether or not I would pursue higher education; I just wondered how. Now, working three jobs in addition to being a full time student, the ‘how’ has become a harsh reality. The Pell Grant is my primary financial crutch, and without it, I would become a statistic - a college dropout. I fully support Senator Hirono's college affordability package because students should not have to ask, ‘how’ anymore.”

“For DREAMer students in Hawaii and around the country, it may seem impossible to cobble together the funds to attend college—class by class, job by job, semester by semester,” said Shingai Masiya, Co-Founder of the Aloha DREAM Team and a student at Hawaii Pacific University. “Senator Hirono’s College Options for DREAMers Act would help make the dream of a college degree a reality, by giving hardworking students the same federal financial aid options as other qualified students.”

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, the ranking member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee’s Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, is also introducing the same package of bills in the House today:

“The best and fastest way to create an avenue for millions of students, who want to enroll in college, is by providing them with the tools they need to afford college, and Pell Grants have been a successful option for students who come from middle-class and low-income families,” said U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa. “It is unfortunate, to say the least, that some Republicans want to stamp out the dreams for so many students. This college affordability package, that Senator Hirono and I, along with some of our colleagues in Congress are introducing, affords significant changes to the Pell Grant process and system by making college more affordable and accessible for those who need it the most.  One of the most important aspects of these bills is that DREAMer students would have access to the same Pell Grants, student loans, work-study and other financial aid that are offered to qualified American students. I come from a part of the country, on the border with Mexico in Deep South Texas, where we see too many brilliant DREAMer students denied access to a college education. They are being denied even though, through no fault of their own, they were brought into the United States illegally when they were young children. We must do right by all of our residents who want to better themselves and who want to contribute to this country.”

The following national organizations have endorsed all four bills in Senator Hirono’s Plan to Protect and Strengthen Pell Grants:

  • American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO)
  • American Association of Community Colleges (AACC)
  • American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU)
  • American Council on Education (ACE)
  • American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
  • Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU)
  • Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)
  • Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU)
  • Council for Opportunity in Education (COE)
  • National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC)
  • National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA)
  • National Education Association (NEA)
  • United States Student Association (USSA)
  • Young Invincibles (YI)