Fact check: Pell Grant claims
01:52 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Obama pushed to eliminate subsidized student loans

Much of the money went into Pell Grants

That program has grown from $19 billion to about $36 billion

CNN  — 

During Tuesday night’s debate with Republican challenger Mitt Romney, President Barack Obama touted his administration’s support for the federal Pell Grant program and other aid for college students.

The claim:

“We’ve expanded Pell Grants for millions of people, including millions of young women, all across the country,” Obama said. “We did it by taking $60 billion that was going to banks and lenders as middlemen for the student loan program, and we said, ‘Let’s just cut out the middleman. Let’s give the money directly to students.’ And as a consequence, we’ve seen millions of young people be able to afford college, and that’s going to make sure that young women are going to be able to compete in that marketplace.”

That’s a big claim in a time of tight budgets, so CNN decided to take a closer look.

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The facts:

In 2009 and 2010, the Obama administration pushed to eliminate the federal guaranteed student loan program, which subsidized student loans issued through private lenders. The administration argued that the money that went to banks through the program would be better spent on direct federal loans to students or to Pell Grants, which provide students up to $5,600.

A Democratic-led Congress approved the plan in March 2010 as part of the same budget bill that cemented Obama’s signature health care legislation. It faced heavy opposition from Republicans, who criticized it as a “government takeover” of the student loan industry. But Rep. George Miller, the California Democrat who led the House committee that oversaw education, argued it ended a “sweetheart deal” for banks.

During the debate, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the legislation would save the government up to $62 billion through 2020.

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Much of that money has gone to the Pell Grant program, which has grown from about $19 billion in 2009 to a requested $36 billion for 2013. About 10 million students are expected to receive Pell Grants next year, up from about 6 million in the 2008-09 academic year, according to the Department of Education.

However, observers of the higher education sector note that the grants aren’t keeping up with inflated tuition. The grants now cover less than a third of the average cost of attending a four-year public college, according to the Institute for College Access & Success, a nonprofit research group.


Obama’s comments accurately summarize the recent history of the federal student aid programs under his administration, which have gone up – just not as fast as college costs.

Complete coverage of CNN’s Fact Checks

CNN’s Caleb Hellerman and Matt Smith contributed to this report.