Simplifying Pell Grants: How Different Would Awards Be across Different Tools?

Federal Pell grants make college more affordable for low- and moderate-income students. Under the current system, however, students can access these funds only after filling out a complicated application (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA). The process can be confusing and mysterious. Discouraged by the lengthy form and unsure if they’ll receive any aid, many students simply give up.

In our recent report and brief, we discuss proposals from researchers and policymakers to move from the complex formula and application process to a simple look-up table. Rather than a 105-question FAFSA  form, these proposals would rely on just two or three inputs. By removing the burden of the FAFSA and the mystery of the expected family contribution calculation, a transparent table based on income and family size would give students an idea of how much money they are likely to receive well before they apply to college. If students are reasonably sure they can afford college, they may be more motivated to prepare academically and complete the application process. The report and brief also include three options that keep a more complex formula for awarding aid, but still simplify the application process. We discuss how these details matter in our blog post.

Each of the five proposals below awards Pell grants based on adjusted gross income (AGI), but with varying emphasis on family size and composition. How much difference do the details make? Use the calculator to find out.