Main content
Pell Grant marks 50 years of helping students realize their dreams
Yaza Sarieh (left) and Nishu Afobunor

Yaza Sarieh (left) and Nishu Afobunor are two Pell Grant recipients.

Yaza Sarieh 18Ox 20C is from a small immigrant community in Nashville, Tennessee, that she lived in along with her parents, who are from Italy and Palestine. She says that, growing up, the family faced financial hardships, so attending college was uncertain. However, thanks to the federal Pell Grant and institutional aid from Emory University, Sarieh was able to achieve her dream. 

As a history and Arabic dual major, she studied abroad in Morocco and Oman as a Gilman Scholar. After graduation, she was a Henry Luce Foundation Fellow doing development work in Sri Lanka and Thailand. Now, she applies the history and language skills she learned in the classroom to her work with Georgia Organics, where she encourages schools to serve locally-grown produce to kids. 

“Receiving the Pell Grant made it feasible for me to go to school,” says Sarieh. “College was in sight, but it wasn’t certain in terms of affordability. In getting the aid I received, it was a life-changing moment. It changed the trajectory of where I could go and the fact that I could go.”

Pell Grants are need-based aid intended to help those pursuing their first undergraduate degree. The federal Pell Grant program is celebrating 50 years since it was authorized in 1972 by Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965. In the most recent U.S. News & World Report rankings for economic diversity, Emory ranks highly among the top 25 national universities for the percentage of undergraduates receiving Pell Grants.

Pell Grant eligibility is determined when students and their families complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The amount of Pell Grant a student receives is determined by their expected family contribution (EFC). The lower the EFC, the more Pell Grant funds a student receives. In the 2017-18 school year, the average family income for Pell Grant recipients was $60,000. 

Today, the Pell Grant is the single largest source of federal grant aid for college students. According to the Department of Education, the program provided approximately $27 billion in aid to approximately 6.3 million undergraduate students in fiscal year 2020. 

At Emory, Pell Grants are a part of a larger financial aid package for eligible students. About 18% of Emory undergraduates receive Pell Grants. With the expansion of the Emory Advantage program, no students with financial need receive loans as a part of their financial aid packages; instead, those loans have been replaced by Emory Advantage grants, giving students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. This means the Pell Grant is combined with institutional grants and scholarships to help students go to school. 

"Pell Grants represent about $8.3 million of the aid we award to students and that’s tiny compared to the $189 million in grants and scholarships we award to undergraduate students,” says John Leach, associate vice provost for enrollment and university financial aid. “We are proud of our Pell population, and we are grateful that it helps us offset costs for students, but we also put our own institutional dollars forward to support students.”

Pell Grant recipients may also apply for the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. Administered by the U.S. Department of State, the Gilman Scholarship enables students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad, providing them with skills critical to U.S. national security and economic prosperity.

Nishu Afobunor is a second-year student from Atlanta, majoring in international studies and French. He studied abroad in Paris over the summer as a Gilman Scholar. While there, he took courses on the history of France as well as French theater. These are first steps in achieving his goal of practicing international law and working with humanitarian organizations in French-speaking countries. 

“I encourage other Pell Grant recipients to apply for the Gilman Scholarship because not only was I able to avoid a lot of the financial costs of study abroad, but the application process also encouraged me to think deeply about my goals and purpose behind studying in a new city, as well as how I would engage with others in an unfamiliar environment,” Afobunor says. “This process helped me to form bonds with some new and incredible people abroad while learning a lot about a new place.”

Looking forward, the Pell Grant program will see changes in the 2023-24 school year. The FAFSA Simplification Act (FSA) aims to make the form easier to complete so that low-income families have a better idea of their costs. The FSA also calls for incarcerated people to be eligible for Pell Grants if they are enrolled in a prison- education program at a qualifying institution. Finally, it removes the Selective Service requirement, which mandates that eligible men volunteer for the draft in order to receive federal financial aid. 

“The most important thing for families to understand is the difference between Emory’s net price and Emory’s sticker price, in terms of cost of attendance,” Leach says. “A Pell-eligible family may look at the sticker price and say that it costs more than their annual income. However, after financial aid, the net price becomes something our families can afford. Emory is a rare school because we meet full demonstrated need. It is a university priority.”

Percentage of Pell Grant students at Emory University: Academic year 2022-23 (Fall 2022)

First-time, full-time students (Emory College) = 16%

All undergraduates (Atlanta campus) = 18%

First-time, full-time students (Oxford College) = 15%

All undergraduates (Oxford College) = 15%

Recent News