Derek Kilmer

From the office of:

Derek Kilmer

Sending Office: Honorable Derek Kilmer
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For over forty years, Pell Grants have helped millions of middle and low-income students access and complete post-secondary degree and certification programs. Today, the Pell Grant program helps over 8 million needy students obtain a higher education. Since its creation in 1972, the program has helped many Americans receive an education that has led to better jobs and a better life. But the program has not evolved to meet the needs of today’s diverse student population.

This is why it is we need to begin to think about how change the Pell Grant program from a simple funding mechanism to a program that better ensures student success. For this reason, Representative Derek Kilmer (WA-06) is reintroducing the Pathways to an Affordable Education Act, a bill aimed to reform the Pell Grant program to fit the needs of 21st century students.

  • Increase the maximum Pell Grant award: Currently, the maximum annual Pell Grant award is $5,775. As the cost of tuition continues to rise, this is not enough for students to cover tuition and other education related expenses. To provide resources that better align with the cost of higher education today, our bill increases the Pell award to $9,139. This amount represents the average cost of in-state tuition and fees at a public, four-year college. To account for changes in the economy, our bill also indexes the award to the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

  • Fund the Pell grant program through mandatory appropriations: Currently the Pell Grant program is funded through discretionary appropriations with a small mandatory add-on. This means funding a majority of the Pell Grant program is subject to funding provided by Congress.  Our bill would make the Pell Grant program a mandatory spending program so funding for the program will not be subject to the discretion of Congress.
  • Increase the Pell Grant duration limit: A Pell Grant recipient can receive funding for no more than 12 semesters or the equivalent of about six years. Before entering college-level classes, many students have to take remedial classes to improve their skills extending the amount of time they need to complete their program or degree. Additionally, while students may enter a certificate or two-year program intended to just complete that program, that student may decide to pursue a four-year degree. However, on average, students who transfer lose an entire full-semester because those credits do not transfer to the four-year institution. The Pathways to an Affordable Education Act change the current 12 semester requirement and increase the lifetime limit to 15 semesters. This change will provide students more time and the flexibility they need to balance their life and an education.
  • Restore Year-Round Pell awards: Currently students cannot earn two Pell Grants in a single academic year meaning Pell Grant awards cannot be applied to summer programs. So many students today are balancing a job, family, and finances on top of their education which can make it hard to conform to a traditional academic year. Having the ability to take classes during the summer with financial support is important and for many students necessary to finish their program or degree. Our bill would restore year-round Pell Grant awards so that students, no matter what their circumstances, can successfully pursue a higher education.

  • Exclude Pell Grant Rewards from Taxable Income: Currently, students can apply Pell Grants to any of the expenses associated with attending college. This includes both direct costs like tuition and books and indirect costs such as transportation, housing or food. When students use Pell Grants for direct costs, that portion of the grant is not subject to federal income taxation. However, if a student uses their Pell award to cover indirect costs, that portion is considered taxable income. This means that students receiving Pell that need to use the award on indirect costs are essentially receiving a smaller reward. The Pathways to an Affordable Education Act would end the taxation of Pell Grants and allow for students to receive the full amount of their award.

  • Early Pell Communication: Many families are unaware of the financial aid students can receive until they are actually applying for financial aid. During a student’s time in middle school and high school families may be unaware that they can afford to send their kids to college. This lack of information could influence how parents save for college and how students preform academically. Our bill builds upon the current early Pell communication requirements that are in the Higher Education Act by requiring the Department of Education to begin talking with both parents and students when the student reaches the 6th grade.  This includes an estimate on what the student would receive if they were applying for financial aid at that time and resources on the current cost of colleges and how to save for college. It is important that students and families know that a higher education is within their reach as students enter into middle school and begin preparing for their high school academic careers and reaching their higher education goals.

  • Altering the Expected Family Contribution calculation: Currently, families whose income falls below levels necessary to pay for their indirect educational expenses or at the $20,000 poverty level receive a zero Expected Family Contribution (EFC).  This calculation is limited and does not account for students who may not have any form of income or assets. To provide extra support for these students, our bill would allow for the calculation of a negative EFC calculation and for those who receive a negative EFC to receive an additional amount funding to help with college costs.  This helps families and students that are most in need and require additional support to attend college.

If you would like to cosponsor this legislation, or if you have any questions, please contact Rachel Appleton in Congressman Kilmer’s office (


Derek Kilmer

Member of Congress

Related Legislative Issues

Selected legislative information: Civil Rights, Education