The Pell Divide: How Four-Year Institutions are Failing to Graduate Low- and Moderate-Income Students

TalkingEDU_Logo-576877-editedHigh school populations are declining and students, parents, states and the federal government are demanding transparency and improvement in graduation rates. With federal funding of $30 billion per year, Pell Grant recipients have never been more important. When it comes to meeting admissions targets and tuition revenue goals, Pell Grant recipients help fill this widening gap. 


A Hand Up

Since 1972 Pell Grants have provided much-needed assistance to low- and middle-income students seeking to attend and ultimately reap the benefits of a post-secondary education. But, if colleges and universities are to continue to claim the importance of Pell Grants in enabling upward mobility for this already challenged demographic, improving completion rates is critical.

Third Way,” a national think tank which describes itself as “champions of modern center-left ideas… grounded in the mainstream American values of opportunity, freedom, and security” has just published a detailed report. “The Pell Divide: How Four-Year Institutions are Failing to Graduate Low- and Moderate-Income Students” offers a detailed analysis of the “first round of publicly-available data on Pell student graduation rates.” The report looks at “first-time students attending four-year, bachelor-degree granting institutions.” Transfer and part-time students are not included in this study. but data on these groups is expected to be included in the 2018 report.  According to the authors of the report, Education Policy Advisor Wesley Whistle and Deputy Director of Education Tamara Hiler, “this new data lets us hone in on how well institutions are serving Pell students, who need the economic security of a college degree the most.”

Just six of the reports key findings:

  1. After six years, only 49% of first-time, full-time Pell recipients earned a bachelor’s degree at the institution where they started.
  2. Only 47% of institutions graduated half or more of the Pell students who initially enrolled.
  3. 214 institutions have Pell graduation rates lower than 25%. Of the more than 60,000 Pell students initially enrolled at these institutions combined, only 9,904 of them (16%) graduated within six years
  4. Nationally, Pell students graduate at a rate of 18 percentage points less than their non-Pell peers.
  5. 965 of 1,566 four-year institutions serve an above average (37% or more) percentage of Pell students. The report calls these institutions “Pell-Serving Institutions” (PSIs) throughout its analysis.
  6. Only 246 of these Pell-Serving Institutions (25%) have Pell graduation rates at or above 50%.

The Bottom Line

Now, that the DOE requires colleges and universities to provide completion data on Pell Grant recipients “taxpayers and students have their first comprehensive look at how well institutions are doing at helping this critical population secure the degrees they need to ultimately access well-paying jobs and succeed in our 21st century economy.” Assisting this population in completing their education will not only benefit these students and the colleges and universities they attend, it will benefit the entire nation.


To read the full report and policy recommendations click here.

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