By Jenny Smulson, Vice President of Government Relations, AJCU


Many people who have attended a Jesuit college or university (or high school, for that matter) will tell you that there is something more about the education they received. Being #JesuitEducated ensures a rich academic experience but, of equal importance, is the commitment that our institutions make to an education that invites personal growth, puts a premium on care for others (especially those living on the margins), and intentionally forms people who are called to promote justice in the world.

By all measures, we are proud of our schools, especially their outcomes for our graduates. Of the nearly 130,000 undergraduate students enrolled in our 27 U.S. schools, 76% graduate in six years, well above the national average of 62%. Our students are supported by more than $2.5 billion in funded and unfunded institutional aid. Twenty-three percent of our students are recipients of Pell Grants, while many others receive support from programs like Federal Work Study and the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant. Among schools whose students borrow through the Federal Direct Loan program, Jesuit colleges and universities have loan default rates of 3.1%—well below the national average for private 4-year institutions and all 4-year institutions. Our schools also measure student success by employment rates, enrollment in graduate study, and service in the military or volunteer programs, among other standards.

Access, affordability and success are predicated on partnership. Institutions, states and the federal government invest in students to ensure that regardless of income, each person can have an opportunity to attend a post-secondary institution that is the right place for them, including a Jesuit college or university. The foundation of this partnership is the Pell Grant: a federal program that invests in students, without requiring them to pay back the government. It is a direct grant that a student with great economic need can use to attend the school that best fits their needs. At present, the maximum Pell Grant is $6,495: of the program’s recipients, 80% have family incomes of $40,000 or less. While the Pell Grant is a proven equalizer that makes a positive difference in post-secondary enrollment and completion, the current maximum award is not enough, having not kept pace with the current cost of a college education.

This is why AJCU is calling on Congress to double the maximum Federal Pell Grant this year to $13,000. Next month, our presidents will be meeting with their Senators and Representatives to advocate for their current (and future) students who rely on Pell Grants in order to have access to a Jesuit education. Our advocacy is all the more urgent given the impact that the pandemic has had on retention and enrollment, affecting students with financial need more severely than in past years. We know that many students had to leave school to care for family members, or because they faced a loss of income and/or financial constraints. Others never even started: enrollment declined almost twice as much in 2020 compared to the year prior. Doubling the Pell Grant would enable students to enroll, return, and complete their education by putting them on a path toward a more secure future.

AJCU is making this one of our policy priorities, but we are not alone in this effort. The proposal to double Pell has wide support. Recently, more than 1,200 higher education organizations and institutions sent a letter to Congress, urging them to increase the investment in Pell. For not only does the Pell Grant provide access to post-secondary opportunities for individual students, it does something else: it will help our nation on its path toward recovery and greater equity after the pandemic. Working together, we can get this done!