Federal funding earmarked to help low-income students pay for college is growing. Thousands of students who attend a higher education institution in Cleveland could see an increase.

The maximum Pell grant award will rise to $7,395 for the 2023-24 academic year, up from the current amount of $6,895. The boost, the biggest in a decade, comes via the recently signed federal spending bill.

“I do think the increase is significant,” said Michele Scott Taylor, chief program officer at College Now Greater Cleveland. “Now, is $500 significant? Sometimes, $500 is what can keep a kid out of college, so I won’t downplay it. But we do have students who even a few hundred dollars could make a difference between whether they’re able to stay or not stay.” 

Roughly a third of all undergraduates across the country received a Pell grant during the 2020-21 academic year.  

At Cleveland State University, for example, about 40 percent, or 4,242, of the institution’s 10,480 undergraduates, got this grant during that academic year. The average aid amount offered was nearly $4,800. 

Nearly 850 of Case Western Reserve University’s 5,792 undergrads, or about 15 percent, got the grant during that same time, while Cuyahoga Community College reported over a third of its roughly 17,000 total undergrads did that year, all according to the National Center for Education Statistics. 

Higher increases ahead?

This award increase is a far cry from advocates’ calls to double the grant, especially as college costs continue to rise and inflation grows. Officials with the Biden administration, though, said they see this bump as a way to “lay the groundwork” to get that done by 2029. 

Pell Grants are awarded after completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). These grants are typically given to those students who have “exceptional” financial need based on their expected family contribution noted on those forms.

FAFSA completion rates dropped across the country as well as here in Ohio during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

But recent data shows about a 3 percent increase in the state’s completion rates as of the end of December 2022 compared to the same time the previous year, according to the National College Attainment Network

Here in Cleveland, College Now hosts FAFSA workshops at local high schools. Students and/or families can also reach out directly to the organization for help on that front as well as to explore financial aid options. 

Amy Morona covers higher education for Signal Cleveland, in partnership with Open Campus.

Higher education reporter for Signal Cleveland in partnership with Open Campus.