Maximum and Average Pell Grants over Time

The level of the maximum Pell Grant, which is legislated by Congress, has fluctuated over time. It declined by 21% in inflation-adjusted dollars between 1985-86 and 1995-96 before increasing by 35% between 1995-96 and 2005-06, and by another 17% between 2005-06 and 2015-16.

Figure 17: Maximum and Average Pell Grants in 2015 Dollars, 1975-76 to 2015-16

Notes & Sources 

SOURCES: U.S. Department of Education, Federal Pell Grant Program End-of-Year Report, 1975-76 through 2014-15; Federal Student Aid Data Center, Title IV Program Volume Reports and Aid Recipients Summary; calculations by the authors.

  • The largest one-year percentage increases in the maximum Pell Grant were 16% ($796 in 2015 dollars) in 2009-10 and 11% ($484) in 2001-02. The largest declines were 14% in 1980-81 ($827) and again in 1981-82 ($699).
  • The maximum Pell Grant is the most frequently cited measure of the subsidies provided by the program. However, most students receive smaller grants because they are enrolled part time or because their family incomes and assets reduce their aid eligibility. In 2015-16, when the maximum Pell Grant was $5,775, the average grant was $3,724.