One Reason Low-Income Students’ Graduation Rate Lags: Where They Enroll

Report: “The Pell Partnership: Ensuring a Shared Responsibility for Low-Income Student Success”

Organization: The Education Trust

Summary: The Education Trust gathered graduation rates for both Pell Grant recipients and nonrecipients of the need-based grants at 1,149 public and private nonprofit four-year colleges. It then analyzed the graduation gap between the two groups in a number of different ways.

Key Findings:

  • There’s a big difference between the overall graduation gap and the average institution-level gap.
  • When all the colleges are grouped together, Pell recipients have a six-year graduation rate of 50.7 percent, compared with 64.9 percent for nonrecipients. That’s a gap of 14 percentage points. The average institutional gap between Pell and non-Pell recipients is much lower: 5.7 percentage points.
  • That demonstrates that the national gap results not only from the differences at individual colleges, but from what the report calls “enrollment stratification” — the fact that low-income students are concentrated in less-selective colleges where lower shares of students complete their degrees.

Bottom Line: Across the country, low-income students graduate at a lower rate than do their peers. While there are gaps — sometimes big ones — within institutions, the different enrollment patterns of Pell and non-Pell recipients further drives the overall gap.

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