ALBANY — For nearly 50 years, the Pell Grant has been the centerpiece of federal student aid, helping individuals most in need of financial support to attend the college or university of their choice.

Pell Grants help more than 370,000 New York students and families afford a college education every year, and they are proven to be the most effective and equitable investment the federal government can make in students. Simply put, investing in the Pell Grant program tackles student debt head on.

However, the federal government has not made a meaningful increase to Pell Grants in more than a decade. In the interim, colleges and universities have done their best to pick up the slack, but the challenges of inadequate funding persist.

New York’s private, not-for-profit colleges and universities are doing their part to make higher education more accessible and more affordable.

They provide more than $6.4 billion in financial aid each year to students of all income levels.

In fact, 66 percent of students who attend New York’s private, not-for-profit colleges and universities come from families who earn less than $125,000 a year.

Despite best efforts from institutions, the affordability gap has become a greater barrier as Pell Grants have remained stagnant. The federal government must step up and do its part.

President Joe Biden has set an ambitious goal of doubling the Pell Grant program, and we believe that this is an initiative that Congress should adopt immediately. By doubling Pell Grants, funding to students most in need would increase from the maximum of just $6,495 per year to nearly $13,000 annually. Such an increase in support would enable thousands more students to receive the college education of their dreams while reducing the amount of student loan debt in the future without having to borrow money to afford it.

This increase would have sweeping benefits to students throughout New York and across the nation. It would represent a critical investment in the future of our students and the social and economic wellbeing of the country itself.

Pell Grants were so successful when first introduced in 1972 because they covered a significant percentage of college tuition costs for students. But as the cost of providing high-quality higher education has gone up over the years, Pell Grants have not kept pace. Doubling Pell Grants is the most effective way to restore that balance and offer more students a sizeable financial aid grant that provides meaningful help with college costs.

The Biden administration has put forth a tremendous opportunity for students in New York and across the country to receive an affordable college education of their choice. Doubling the Pell Grant program should be Congress’s top higher education priority. It should be accomplished immediately and certainly by the program’s 50th anniversary on June 23, 2022.

Lola W. Brabham is president of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities. Anthony G. Collins is president of Clarkson University in Potsdam. Scott Dalrymple is president of Paul Smith’s College in Paul Smiths. Kathryn A. Morris is president of St. Lawrence University in Canton.

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