Eric Henry

Students walk on the Quad, located on the Lincoln Park campus.

Illinois students are campaigning for doubling the Pell grant to college students during the pandemic. 

Illinois Public Interest Research Groups (IL PIRG) is a national organization working to make higher education more affordable. 

IL PIRG started the Double Pell Initiative that campaigns for Congress to double the grant for college students. 

Pell grants have served to help and motivate low-income students [to] pursue higher education; at some point, it was found that the Pell grant was able to cover more than 75 percent of students, and now is only able to cover less than 30 percent,” said UIUC junior IL PIRG intern Bianca Galvez-Azanon. 

Congress funded 27.8 billion dollars for Pell grants in the 2019-2020 school year. 

However, the pandemic forced a majority of universities to shift to remote learning. Despite the lack of face to face learning, universities did not decrease tuition. 

IL PIRG intern and DePaul junior Dilpreet Kaur said the lack of assistance for college students has financially strained them.

“For many college students, they did not receive a stimulus check,” Kaur said. “This put a lot of college folks at a disadvantage because while the government continued to tax us the same, our families were getting their portion of financial assistance during the pandemic but nothing for us nor on behalf of us.”

Galvez-Azanon said attending higher education should not mean compromising a student’s financial well-being. 

“Over time, college has become extremely expensive but also a necessity,” she said. “Unfortunately, it brings college students to the point where in order to pursue any form of higher education, we have to first consider how deep we have to bury ourselves in debt. Getting an education to better ourselves should not mean compromising our entire financial well-being.”

Kaur started a letter to introduce DePaul student leaders to the Double Pell Initiative. 

“Many folks either don’t know about the initiative or are not aware on how to get involved, so my role in this through the information and resources I have received through PIRG is to not only pass on those resources to student leaders, but also make sure they are represented in front of Congress when we make this push,” she said.

IL PIRG also participated in Illinois National Lobby Day where members spoke directly to representatives about their concerns over college costs. 

“Lobby days are important to give [representatives] personal stories and it’s important that we get that legislation passed during this pandemic,” said Matthew Almedras, IL PIRG campaign coordinator for textbook affordability and UIC freshman. “Students are struggling and we need to support the government to be able to continue our education.”

Almedras added that lobbying days were important to IL PIRG because they are a nonpartisan organization that focuses on issues affecting students’ daily lives.

Kaur said that DePaul can make more efforts to stand with students during financial hardship. 

“DePaul can help represent students and stand with us when making the push to double the Pell Grant,” she said. “Furthermore, DePaul can even help students by making non-tuition related college expenses more affordable. This can include more textbook availability through our online resources.”

Although debates over cancelling student debt and providing more stimulus checks are occurring in Congress, Galvez-Azanon said that Congress should pass legislation sooner rather than later.  

“Congress should pass more relief for college students, as if they were able to do so in the past, they should be able to do so currently and in the future,” she said.