Most four-year institutions are failing to effectively support first-time, full-time Pell grant recipients, according to a new analysis published by the think tank Third Way. The research project—which included data from 1,566 schools—found that after six years, only 49 percent of the Pell recipients studied had earned a bachelor’s degree at the institution where they originally enrolled. Just 47 percent of institutions studied had graduated at least half of their Pell students, who are much more likely to be first-generation students and/or people of color, within six years.
Overall, Pell students’ graduation rate was 18 percentage points less than that of their non-Pell peers, with an average institutional “Pell Gap” of 7 percentage points. (The data show that Pell students at Georgetown achieved a 92.9 percent graduation rate, compared with 94.5 percent among the university’s non-Pell students.)
In looking specifically at Pell-Serving Institutions (PSIs)—those with an above-average proportion (37 percent or more) of Pell students—the researchers found that there are seven U.S. states without a single PSI that has a Pell graduation rate above 50 percent. Of particular concern are the nation’s for-profit schools; two-thirds of students enrolled at these schools received Pell grants and only one in five Pell students studied graduated within six years.
Noting that the data set—released in October 2017—marks the first time the federal government has publicly released the graduation rates of first-time, full-time Pell recipients, the researchers call their analysis “an important step” toward helping Pell recipients understand which institutions best serve students like them. They also say the findings reinforce that higher education’s well-recognized “completion crisis” is even more striking among low- and moderate-income students.
Speaking with Forbes, a Third Way education policy advisor called on colleges and universities to look at gaps in Pell student graduation rates “to make sure they are serving their students in an equitable way.” The researchers also assert that Congress should hold universities accountable for Pell student graduation rates, rewarding and expanding programs that increase Pell student success.
How Georgetown helps low-income students thrive
Georgetown is committed to ensuring that all students have the resources and support they need to succeed. The Georgetown Scholarship Program provides programmatic support to more than 650 undergraduates, and the 50-year-old Community Scholars Program prepares its multicultural cohort of first-generation college students for success with a five-week academic summer program and ongoing support. The Regents Science Scholars Program further expands opportunities for students from traditionally underserved communities pursuing studies in the sciences.