Senate Proposes Moderate Pell Grant Increase, Other Higher Ed Investments

The Senate also proposed increased funding for HBCUs and childcare access programs for parents enrolled in college.
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  • Democrats are rushing to get a budget passed during the ongoing lame-duck session.
  • The Senate's first draft includes substantial funding to improve infrastructure at HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions.
  • It also includes an increase to the maximum Pell Grant well below what President Joe Biden proposed in March.

Higher education programs stand to gain in the first draft of the 2023 federal budget, but increases don't go as far as many advocates hoped.

U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat representing Vermont, revealed the chamber's first draft of a 2023 omnibus budget bill Tuesday. The proposal includes increases to the federal Pell Grant program, increased funding for minority-serving institutions (MSIs), and childcare programs for parents studying in college.

The race is on to get a budget passed soon.

Democrats will lose their advantage in the U.S. House of Representatives when the next Congress is sworn in this January. Policy experts previously told BestColleges that this could lead lawmakers to try to pass a budget during this lame-duck session while Democrats still hold a majority in each chamber.

Maximum Pell Grant Increase

The headline for higher education appropriations is the increase to the Pell Grant program, which benefits approximately 7 million low- and middle-income students each year.

The Senate's bill proposes to increase the maximum Pell Grant award to $7,395 for the 2023-24

school year, which would be a 7.2% increase from the previous year. However, it's a long way off from the 25.7% increase President Joe Biden called for in his first budget proposal in March, which would have brought the max award to $8,670 in 2023.

Biden also said he wanted Congress to double the maximum Pell Grant by 2029.

Still, a summary of the higher education issues in this omnibus bill states that a $500 increase would be the largest increase in the maximum award since the 2009-10 school year. It's an upgrade from the $400 increase for the 2022-23 school year.

HBCUs, Other MSIs Would See Increased Funding

According to the summary, $1 billion is designated for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), MSIs, and other "historically under-resourced institutions of higher education serving a high percentage of low-income students."

That's an increase of $137 million, or 15%, from the 2022 fiscal year.

The omnibus bill also sets aside funds to improve infrastructure at HBCUs, tribal colleges and universities (TCUs), and other MSIs. According to the bill, $50 million would be set aside for a new program "to promote transformational investments in research infrastructure" at these schools.

This description fits the program recently proposed in the IGNITE HBCU, TCU, and MSI Excellence Act. Lodriguez Murray, senior vice president of public policy at the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), previously told BestColleges that UNCF would be heavily advocating for Congress to pass the IGNITE Excellence Act during the lame-duck session.

"We think that it is a necessity that this bill passes this Congress," Murray said. "It's not something to visit next year; this is needed now."

Childcare Covered in CCAMPIS Funding Increase

The Senate's bill would allocate $75 million for the Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) program. This federal program aims to increase access to affordable and convenient childcare for student parents.

The Senate's proposal would be an increase of $10 million, or 15%, from last year.

However, it is again a far cry from what advocates had hoped for in a 2023 budget.

A coalition of 55 organizations penned a letter to lawmakers in early December asking them to increase total funding for the CCAMPIS program to $500 million. According to the letter, this would be the amount needed to provide childcare support to approximately 6% of Pell Grant-eligible parenting students of children ages 0-5.

It would support roughly 100,000 more parents than the current program does, according to the letter.

Other Budget Items

Besides the programs listed above, the Senate's budget proposal includes increased funding for other higher education initiatives.

That includes a 21% increase in funding from last year for the Registered Apprenticeship program. This would bring total funding for the program up to $285 million.

Federal TRIO Programs — grants for low-income, first-generation college students — would see increased funding to $1.2 billion. That's an increase of $54 million, or 5%, from the 2022 fiscal year.

Lastly, the budget includes $45 million to support college completion and retention programs across the country. President Biden's budget proposal called for $110 million to support these programs.