Study aims to hold schools responsible for upward mobility

Just 51% of Pell-eligible students who began college full time in 2007 graduated by 2013

A new study from the Education Trust gives the clearest picture of individual college and universities' success at graduating Pell grant-eligible students, Nick Anderson reports for the Washington Post.

For the study released last week, researchers analyzed data from approximately 1,150 public and private institutions and found that 51% of Pell-eligible students who began college full time in 2007 graduated with a bachelor's degree by 2013—compared with 65% of non-Pell students.

At individual schools the graduation gap was 5.7 percentage points on average.

The data came from state agencies, schools, and U.S. News & World Report—the last of which Education Trust paid for access.

Those federal ratings that weren't? States are doing them on their own.

"We want institutions to take this seriously and understand they need to be accountable for helping the students they enroll," report author Andrew Nichols told Anderson. 

The federal government spends $31 billion on Pell grants each year.

"When we're spending this much money on a program, good or bad, we need to know what the results are," says Sarah Butrymowicz, a Hechinger Report editor.

This month, the government released school-by-school graduation rates for Pell-eligible students as part of its revamped College Scorecard. But officials acknowledged the figures are flawed, because they were calculated using numbers from a database not designed to measure graduation rates. 

"There are big blind spots in any system that measures only the success of first-time, full-time students, because so many study part time or transfer from one school to another," Anderson writes. "But for now the Education Trust study offers one of the best ways to compare schools on a crucial metric of social mobility."

Among the schools succeeding is the University of Maryland Baltimore County, where the Pell-eligible rate was 61% compared with non-Pell students' 62%.

The university targets struggling students early on. Those who earn a C or lower in certain classes are flagged and receive extra attention from advisers and faculty members. Tutoring is also widely available.

And at nearby George Mason University, 68% of Pell-eligible students graduate within six years—a higher rate than their non-Pell peers, 64% of whom graduate within six years.

VP for Enrollment Management David Burge says that keeping tuition low helps keep graduation rates high because students feel less pressure to find a job in order to pay bills. The institution also tracks and supports students who put their studies on pause for one reason or another (Anderson, Washington Post, 9/24).

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