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Happy birthday Pell Grants and Morrill Act!

The Pell Grants, originally created in 1972 under the name Basic Education Opportunity Grants, are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year. Since its inception, the scheme has provided financial assistance to over 60 million low-income students and in 2010 received a major boost in funding (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, October 2009), before being a subject of tough higher education funding revision discussions in 2011. The aim of the Pell Grants is to promote access to higher education. The grant amount a student receives is calculated on a number of criteria, including the so-called ‘family expected contribution’, the cost of attendance at the institution, the student’s attendance status, as well as the duration of attendance within the academic year. The maximum amount for the upcoming 2012/13 academic year is set at USD 5 550 (EUR 4 586). In most cases, only students without a bachelor’s or professional degree are eligible to apply. The maximum level of support has fluctuated over the years and although the current contribution is the same as in the year before, just as the Stafford Loans mentioned in another article in this edition of the newsletter, the Pell Grants might face a major review, as a comprehensive reform of the Higher Education Act of 1965 is expected next year. Thus, despite being historically the core source of financial aid for an ever increasing number of students, their future remains uncertain.

Also celebrated this year is the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862 which set the cornerstone of the US public higher education system of today. It had a major impact on widening access to education, introducing direct government funding, and allowed for the introduction of a more applied focus of studies. The bill was originally passed to establish institutions in each US state to provide a practical education in agriculture and mechanical arts to people across all levels of society. It gave each state 30 000 acres of federal land, for each of its Representatives and Senators in Congress, to be used as a financial endowment for setting up the institutions. Despite the success in opening up higher education to the general population, due to the racial divide, the first Morrill Act universities were essentially all-white institutions. This situation was partially rectified in 1890, when a second land-grant act was passed. This time, states were provided with cash grants as opposed to land and the historically Black colleges of today were given the same legal status as the 1862 institutions. The legacy of both Acts is unparalleled in the history of US higher education and the long list of globally-renowned institutions only further testifies to their success (see the APLU website).

US Department of Education (Pell Grants) Federal Student Aid Office US Department of Education (Morrill Act) Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU)