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Letter: Seize the power of Pell

Craft writes, "Fearful of debt, unfamiliar with Pell, fewer low-income people are applying to college. Since COVID swept over us, enrollment across American higher education has fallen by more than one million students. And with that drop, America’s public high school students in the class of 2021 left $3.75 billion in Pell Grants unused."

William Craft
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Fifty years ago, in a bipartisan vote, the United States Congress created the Pell Grant to provide college scholarships to lower-income students. Like the G.I. Bill before it, Pell became not only an aid to individual students but also an engine of growth for America as a whole.

Guiding the legislation in 1972 were Sen. Claiborne Pell and College Board leader Lois Rice, he the son of wealth and she the daughter of immigrants. The bold idea that drove them both was to provide need-based scholarships directly to America’s low-income students, rather than giving the money to colleges to distribute. Their success means that students who qualify for the Pell Grant can take it to any accredited college—to the school that they believe will serve them best. So Pell unites freedom of choice with educational and economic opportunity, and since 1972 more than 80 million students have seized that opportunity.

It is time to help Americans seize that opportunity again. Fearful of debt, unfamiliar with Pell, fewer low-income people are applying to college. Since COVID swept over us, enrollment across American higher education has fallen by more than one million students. And with that drop, America’s public high school students in the class of 2021 left $3.75 billion in Pell Grants unused. In Minnesota alone, Pell recipients fell by 11% from 2019 to 2021.

Let’s change that trend here in the Red River Valley! Every person in our community who is thinking about college—whether they are seeking two or four-year degrees—should complete the FAFSA: the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. That will let them know if they qualify for Pell—and for other aid programs.

Fargo-Moorhead has a remarkable local strength in its five institutions of higher education: Concordia, Minnesota State University Moorhead, M State, North Dakota State College of Science, and North Dakota State University. Together with students’ families, their school counselors, coaches, mentors and friends, we can help our young people seize the power of Pell. If you don’t know about Pell or about how to fill out the FAFSA, call Concordia at 218-299-3010—or call any of the five institutions in our twin towns. We’ll help you get it done.

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As Pell put it 50 years ago, lack of wealth must never “stand in the way of a person who has the talent, the desire, and the drive” for education. To students: Your life, your work, and your dreams matter—for you and for our nation.

William Craft is president of Concordia College in Moorhead. He was recently on Capitol Hill lobbying to increase the Pell Grant for lower-income Americans.

This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

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