Total Pell Grant Expenditures and Number of Recipients over Time

Between 2010-11 and 2015-16, total Pell Grant expenditures declined by 28% in inflation-adjusted dollars. However, the $28.2 billion distributed under the program in 2015-16 was 82% higher than the $15.5 billion awarded a decade earlier.

Figure 18: Total Pell Grant Expenditures and Number of Recipients, 1980-81 to 2015-16

Notes & Sources 

SOURCES: U.S. Department of Education, Federal Pell Grant Program End-of-Year Report, 1980-81 through 2014-15; Federal Student Aid Data Center, Title IV Program Volume Reports and Aid Recipients Summary; calculations by the authors.

  • Growth in Pell Grant expenditures is driven primarily by growth in the number of recipients. The number of recipients in 2015-16 was 18% lower than it was five years earlier, but 46% higher than it was 10 years earlier.
  • Both the maximum and average Pell Grants also declined (in inflation-adjusted dollars) between 2010-11 and 2015-16, by 5% and 11%, respectively. In 2015-16, the maximum award was 17% higher and the average award was 24% higher than a decade earlier.
  • The percentage of Pell Grant recipients who are independent students, with eligibility determined by their own financial circumstances rather than those of their parents, rose from 41% in 1980-81 to 61% in 1990-91. After a slight decline, this percentage reached 60% in 2010-11, but declined steadily to 55% in 2014-15.