This continues and intensifies a months-long debate about how the Pell Grant program is funded and administered. Next school year, the program is slated to spend $35 billion on 9.4 million students. Republicans looking to cut the program have suggested restricting student eligibility or reducing the maximum amount students can receive.

This week, dozens of university presidents, students and education advocates are on the Hill to persuade lawmakers to protect Pell Grants. Monday has been designated as “Save Pell Day” by the Education Trust, a nonprofit focused on closing education achievement gaps.

Unlike loans, Pell Grants do not have to be repaid after graduation. When the program started 30 years ago, the maximum Pell Grant covered nearly three-fourths of the cost of attending a four-year public college, according to the Education Trust. Today, the maximum award covers about a third of the cost, and 63 percent of Pell recipients also take out loans to pay for school. Nearly half of African American undergraduates receive Pells, as do 40 percent of Latino undergrads.

“I don’t think you can say that you have the best interest of this country at heart and cut Pell Grants,” said Leo Morton, chancellor of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, at a news conference Tuesday. “You see, this is an area where we need to invest.”

Meanwhile, a group of college student government presidents have sent a letter to President Obama and congressional leaders, urging them to strike a deal of some sort, even if it requires making sacrifices. The letter doesn’t mention Pell Grants.

“Save Pell Day” will feature a social media campaign that includes Facebook, Twitter and hashtag, and Tumblr, featuring news, facts and personal stories of Pell recipients.