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Story Impact

CSU Community Advocates in D.C. for Doubling Pell and Protecting Dreamers

Alisia Ruble

Annual Hill Day events brought students and university leaders together in the nation’s capital to advance federal legislative priorities.

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​From left: SF State Associated Students Director of Government and Community Relations Steven Lee, SF State AS President Karina Zamora, CSU Board of Trustees Chair Wenda Fong, House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi, Interim CSU Chancellor Jolene Koester and CSU Board of Trustees Vice Chair ​Jack B. Clarke Jr.


​California State University students, alumni, staff, trustees and leadership met with federal legislators April 19 to advance top CSU federal priorities, including doubling the maximum Pell Grant and providing support and stability for undocumented students and employees, as part of the university's annual Hill Day events.

Among those who met with members of the CSU community were Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla, Under Secretary​ of Education James Kvaal, U.S. Representatives Nanette Barragán and Jimmy Panetta and Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi.

During a Hill Day kick-off event, CSU Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester and Cal State Long Beach President Jane Conoley led a discussion with U.S. Congressman and CSULB alumnus Robert Garcia ('02, '10) in which they discussed issues pertaining to higher education policy and topics impacting the CSU.

Congressman Garcia also offered anecdotes about his priorities and experience in government as well as how his time at CSULB prepared him for his career as a public servant. He noted that the politics of campus leadership prepared him well for the politics of Congress.

“As an immigrant, pursuing my degree at CSULB allowed me to learn to lead," Congressman Garcia said. “The perspective I gained there informs me now as a legislator and advocate for our community. I am so proud to be a Cal State alum and look forward to all the great work they will keep doing. As always: Go Beach!"

In speaking with CSU delegates, Chancellor Koester emphasized the critical need to double the maximum federal Pell Grant to $12,990—and permanently index the grant to inflation—to enable students to pursue the security, promise and prosperity that come with a college degree.

Approximately 225,000 CSU students rely on Pell Grants to be able to attend college and more than 64,000 CSU Pell recipients earned bachelor's degrees in 2021-22—about 58 percent of the total graduating class.

“It is no overstatement: the Pell Grant is an American success story, but more must be done," Chancellor Koester said. “The Pell Grant continues to fall well short of meeting our students' needs, a circumstance exacerbated by inflation and soaring housing costs throughout California."

Established in 1972, the Pell Grant is the largest financial aid grant program offered by the U.S. Department of Education to help undergraduate students from low-income households pay for college and has benefitted more than 80 million students across the country.

Over time, though, the purchasing power of the Pell Grant has eroded from covering more than 75 percent of a student's total cost of attending a public four-year university to covering only about 28 percent of the cost.

“[Doubling the Pell Grant] will deliver a powerful return in the form of increased access to higher education and in improved student persistence, higher completion rates and enhanced basic needs support for students from modest financial means," Koester said. “It also helps our state and nation fulfill the workforce needs of the future with dynamically diverse and highly educated graduates, and it drives economic prosperity for all of us."

In meetings with legislators throughout the day, CSU delegates also championed a permanent fix for young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as small children, known as Dreamers, many of whom are Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals​ (DACA) recipients. The DACA program has enabled hundreds of thousands of undocumented students to work and go to school in the U.S. and make significant contributions to the country.

As the nation's most ethnically diverse public four-year university, the CSU is deeply committed to ensuring academic opportunities are available to all the state's students, regardless of citizenship status. As of fall 2021, the CSU enrolled nearly 10,000 AB 540 and undocumented students, and counts approximately 500 DACA recipients among the CSU employee family.

Each of the university's 23 campuses provides resources for undocumented students and employees, and the provision of permanent legislative protection and support for Dreamers has been a federal CSU priority for several years.

Additionally, delegates urged legislators to provide more support for Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) like the CSU, of which 21 campuses are designated Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) and 14 campuses are designated Asian American Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs). These designations enable campuses to apply for federal and private grants that help strengthen their efforts to assist underserved communities.

The CSU's Hill Day events highlight the importance of having close relationships with legislators in the nation's capital who fully appreciate and believe in the power of higher education to transform lives, elevate families and communities, Koester said.

“It's only with the support of our federal leadership that we can fully realize our extraordinary promise and potential as a force for prosperity, equity, compassion and understanding, and as the nation's greatest engine of social mobility."


To learn more about the CSU's federal priorities, visit the Federal Relations website, and explore social media posts from Hill Day events on Wake​