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Report: Completion Gaps Among Pell Students Vary By Institution

Quick Takeaways:

  • On average, there is a 5.7 percent completion gap among Pell and non-Pell Grant recipients at the institutional level, compared with 14 percent nationally.
  • However, the data also shows wide variation in the completion gaps across institutions, and those with significant graduation gaps “must do more to improve their outcomes” for Pell students.
  • According to Education Trust “too many Pell students attend institutions where few students of any sort graduate and too few attend institutions where most students graduate.”

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff

Colleges with large gaps in completion rates of Pell Grant recipients and non-Pell students need to do more to ensure the success of Pell recipients and more selective institutions should increase the number of Pell students they admit, according to a new report from The Education Trust.

For the report, Education Trust examined data on Pell Grant recipients from 1,149 public and nonprofit institutions that award bachelor’s degrees across the country, a sample that overall educates about 85 percent of the first-time,-full time Pell Grant recipients. An analysis of the data showed a 14-percentage point national gap between the completion rates for Pell students (51 percent) and non-Pell students (65 percent). In other words, the percentage of low-income students who receive Pell support and go on to graduate is 14 percent lower nationally than students who aren't receiving Pell Grants and likely don't face the same financial struggles as Pell Grant recipients. While that national gap may seem large, the data from the institutional level is “much more positive,” showing an average completion gap within institutions of only 5.7 percent.

However, the data also shows wide variation in the completion gaps across institutions. About 35 percent of all institutions have either no gap in graduation rates or gaps of 3 percentage points or less, meaning they are serving Pell students nearly as well as non-Pell students. Nearly the same number of schools – about 35 percent – have gaps that are greater than 9 percentage points, and more than half of those institutions have gaps that are more than twice the national average.

The data shows that institutions with significant graduation gaps “must do more to improve their outcomes” for Pell students, including things like “changes to their admissions, financial aid, advising policies, and much more,” Education Trust said in the report.

But even closing the institutional gaps would only partly solve the problem, reducing the 14-percentage point national gap to just 7 percent, according to the report. Instead, the focus should be turned to the enrollment patterns of Pell and non-Pell students. According to Education Trust “too many Pell students attend institutions where few students of any sort graduate and too few attend institutions where most students graduate.”

Education Trust offers three takeaways for policymakers, institutional leaders, and students:

  1. The Pell Grant Program “is a necessary part” of increasing the number of college-educated adults in the U.S. “If the program didn’t exist, thousands of low-income students would lose access to higher education and never complete a degree, a terrible waste of talent that our country cannot afford,” the authors said in the report.
  2. The conversation about equitable outcomes for Pell recipients needs to go beyond institutional completion gaps and include the enrollment decisions of students, as there are “too many” selective institutions that do not enroll an adequate number of low-income students.
  3. Current data and anecdotal evidence from institutions that serve Pell students well show that institutions can achieve equity, if completion and equity are made a top priority by leaders.

 

Publication Date: 9/25/2015


Melissa G | 9/25/2015 1:19:18 PM

"In this report and on our website, we provide graduation rate data for Pell
Grant recipients at 1,149 four-year public and private nonprofit colleges
and universities." Since community colleges enroll a large percentage of the nation's Pell grant recipients, it would have been interesting to include community college students in the report.

Joseph S | 9/25/2015 8:35:41 AM

Some real serious patterns here of success, even with all of the resources needed such as Pell Grants, especially at community colleges. All this points to is a a lack of preparedness for collegiate level work, and admissions standards that may admit a student but do not provide the academic resources needed for the underprepared. if we could only resolve part of this issue, we would see increased success of our Pell grant recipients.

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