Pell Grants: Where Does All the Money Go?

The Federal Pell Grant Program, which provides need-based grants to millions of college students, is the federal government’s largest education expenditure. It consumes over half the Department of Education’s annual budget and in 2010-2011 cost taxpayers about $36 billion per year.

Although the program started out as a way to provide college access to low-income students, it has grown so vast in recent years that nearly 60 percent of all undergraduates now receive Pell grants.

In spite of the high cost, few people have scrutinized the effectiveness of Pell grants. This report, Pell Grants: Where Does All the Money Go? by Jenna Ashley Robinson and Duke Cheston, brings together what is known about Pell grants to determine how well the program serves the students who receive them and the taxpayers who fund them.

Hard copies are available from the Martin Center at no charge. To request a copy, send an email to:

CORRECTION: The unit on the right-axis on the table entitled “Total Pell Grant Recipients and Expenditures, 1974-2010” should be billions, not millions.