How Successful Are Colleges At Graduating Low-Income Students?

U.S. News often receives feedback that we should collect and publish more information about how colleges and universities are serving their entire student populations. For the first time, we are able to answer the question of how schools are doing at graduating their low-income students receiving Pell grants relative to the rest of their student body.

The Pell grant program offers federal aid to students from low-income families, most often to undergraduates with family incomes under $20,000. The Higher Education Opportunity Act, passed in 2009, requires that schools disclose the graduation rates of students who received a Pell grant, students who received a subsidized Stafford loan but not a Pell grant, and students who received neither. These three separate graduation rates indicate if a college is successful in serving students from different income levels.

The proportion of students receiving Pell grants is also considered a measure of economic diversity; in the higher education community, this has garnered a lot of attention, particularly at elite schools that haven't traditionally enrolled large numbers of low-income students or students from low-income families.

This spring, U.S. News collected these graduation rate data for the fall 2005 entering class as part of our regular data collection for the 2013 Best Colleges rankings. This information is not currently being collected by the U.S. Department of Education.

The three separate graduation rates were not incorporated into the 2013 Best Colleges rankings methodology. However, in future years we may incorporate them into the rankings model, since this differential graduation rate information is an important outcome measure.

In the analysis below, we have used this data collection to show which schools in the U.S. News National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges ranking categories are overperformers or underperformers when comparing the six-year graduation rate of their Pell grant students with the six-year rate of their entire graduating class.

Of the 510 ranked schools in the National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges categories, 341 submitted information to U.S. News on both the entire fall 2005 student body graduation rate and the graduation rate of Pell grant students for the fall 2005 entering class.

Click through to see the overperformers and underperformers.


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