A Pell Grant is a subsidy the U.S. federal government provides for students who need it to pay for college. Federal Pell Grants are limited to students with financial need, who have not earned their first bachelor’s degree, or who are enrolled in certain post-baccalaureate programs, through participating institutions. The Pell Grant is named after Democratic U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island, and was originally known as the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant. A Pell Grant is generally considered the foundation of a student’s financial aid package, to which other forms of aid are added. The Federal Pell Grant program is administered by the United States Department of Education, which determines the student’s financial need and through it, the student’s Pell eligibility. The U.S. Department of Education uses a standard formula to evaluate financial information reported on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for determining the student’s expected family contribution (EFC).
Pell Grants were created by the Higher Education Act of 1965. These federal funded grants are not like loans, and need not be repaid. Students may use their grants at any one of approximately 5,400 participating postsecondary institutions. These federally funded grants help about 5.4 million full-time and part-time college and vocational school students nationally. As of 2016, six of the top ten colleges (by total Pell Grant money awarded) were for-profit (proprietary) institutions.