Senator Murray Negotiates Wins To Make College Affordable and Accessible to More Students

(Washington, D.C.) – Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Senate education committee, negotiated wins in a bipartisan, bicameral higher education proposal that will be included in the must-pass year end spending bill to make college more affordable and accessible to more students. Senator Murray successfully fought to significantly expand who is eligible for financial aid, remove barriers students face in accessing financial aid, provide financial relief for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and better support working students, working families, students with low-incomes, and student parents—all of which Senator Murray has long fought for. Each year, an additional 555,000 students will be newly eligible for the Pell Grant, and 1.7 million more grant recipients will be newly eligible for the maximum Pell Grant, as a result of this legislation.

Specifically, Senator Murray secured policies that restore Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals, students who have been defrauded, and students with drug-related offenses; significantly expand who is eligible to receive Pell Grants and the maximum award; simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA); make the financial aid process easier to navigate for students experiencing homelessness and students formerly in foster care; forgive outstanding debts of HBCUs that received loans under the federal HBCU Capital Financing Loan Program; increase support for working students and families by reducing the “work penalty” threshold for financial aid; and takes steps to ensure students with low-incomes and student parents can access programs that support their basic needs.

“Every single person in this country should be able to access and afford a quality higher education—and today we move substantially closer to that goal. For too long, students who are incarcerated, students who have been defrauded by for-profit colleges, and students who have drug-related offenses have been blocked from receiving federal aid. But now, I’m incredibly pleased that these students will finally be able to access aid and begin and continue their education. And as the pandemic and economic recession has made it even more difficult for students to afford and continue college, I’m proud we have taken important strides to make our financial aid process work better—especially for students experiencing homelessness, students formerly in foster care, and working families,” said Senator Murray.

“These are important steps forward, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. I’ll keep fighting to build on this progress and make higher education more affordable, accessible, accountable, and safer for all students,” continued Senator Murray.

The bipartisan, bicameral proposal takes language from Senator Murray’s Pell Grant Preservation and Expansion Act and the Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act, and builds on her longtime efforts to support HBCUs, tribal colleges, and minority-serving institutions, and her efforts to support students with low-incomes and student parents in order to:

  • Restore Pell grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals, by removing a counterproductive prohibition that has encouraged recidivism and limits incarcerated individuals’ ability to support themselves and their families upon release. Especially important during this pandemic, investing in post-secondary education for incarcerated individuals has also been shown to improve conditions inside prisons;
  • Restore Pell Grant eligibility for defrauded students, by resetting the clock on a student’s eligibility if they are defrauded by predatory for-profit colleges and successfully receive a borrower defense discharge; and
  • Restore Pell Grant eligibility for students with drug-related offenses, by repealing a 1998 prohibition on federal financial aid for college students convicted of a drug offense, which disproportionately disqualifies students of color and students with low incomes from receiving aid.
  • Expand eligibility for the maximum Pell Grant award, by ensuring that all families who make under 175 percent, and single parents who make under 225 percent, of the federal poverty level will receivea maximum Pell Grant.
  • Increase support for working students and families, by reducing the “work penalty” that many students face when working to support themselves and pay for the rising costs of college. The legislation enacts a 35 percent increase for working students and 20 percent increase for families to the income protection allowance (IPA), shielding more of their income from reducing their financial aid.
  • Make critical investments in our nation’s HBCUs, by forgiving the debt HBCUs have received to finance capital infrastructure projects and allowing HBCUs to redirect that spending on educating their students.
  • Support students with low-incomes and student parents, by requiring the Secretary of Education to notify students of their eligibility of programs that support students’ basic needs, including housing and food security and access to child care.
  • Remove barriers to financial aid for students experiencing homelessness and students formerly in foster care, by easing the application and determination process for becoming eligible for aid.