Fifty years ago today, the federal Pell Grant program was officially born with a signature from President Richard Nixon, and with it higher education in the U.S. was changed for the better.
The Pell Grant program, initially known as the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant, awards federal student aid based on family income. The heralded program has opened the doors to higher education for millions of Americans – including me – who had the will and the talent, but didn’t have the financial means to make college a reality.
And I’m certainly not alone. Since 1972, the program has awarded financial support to more than 80 million college students in the U.S., and today nearly 1 in 3 UNLV students are supported by Pell Grants. Last year alone, nearly 10,000 UNLV students received a total of more than $44 million through the program.
For many students at UNLV and around the nation, the Pell Grant program has not just been the key to accessing higher education, it has been the conduit to a better life for them and their families. Since the Pell Grant program launched 50 years ago, UNLV’s enrollment has grown from 6,000 to more than 30,000 students. We are now one of the nation’s premier public research institutions and we’re proud to be the nation’s most diverse university for undergraduates.
And while UNLV’s growth and success can be attributed to myriad factors, there’s no doubt that thousands who today count themselves as among our more than 135,000 alumni do so because of the opportunities that the Pell program afforded them.
As we mark 50 years of Pell, it’s important that we recognize the monumental impact and legacy of this program. It has produced nurses, lawyers, teachers, artists, entrepreneurs, and even a university president or two. Looking ahead, it's vital that we do all we can to preserve and strengthen this incredible program for future generations.