A new report from Third Way, a center-left think tank, looks at how well students who receive Pell Grants, need-based federal grants for low-income students, are persisting in postsecondary education. This report represents some of the first significant analysis done on Pell-recipient graduation rates. The report finds that fewer than half of first-time, full-time Pell students (meaning students who are attending college for the first time, not transfer or return students, who are a slightly different population) graduate at the institution they started at within six years. By contrast, those who do not receive a Pell Grant are doing much better, and nationally are 18 percent more likely to graduate within that time period. However, the University of California stands out as one system where Pell recipients are doing significantly better than other four-year colleges and universities. In fact, UC campuses occupy five of the top ten slots in terms of graduating students with Pell grants.
UCs devote a good portion of funding to attract low-income students. They provide academic preparation for high-school students at underserved schools, and they hold summer enrichment programs. When students are high-school seniors, UC counselors help them with their applications and financial aid. This relationship building has increased the likelihood that these students will apply to a UC. Just as important as getting students to campus, however, is supporting them while they are there. As Janet Napolitano, the system’s chancellor, remarks, “A student needs to have access to whatever support they need in order to help them succeed.” The idea isn’t novel, but when executed properly, the results are clear. According to the Third Way report, the University of California, Los Angeles has an 88 percent Pell-student graduation rate; the University of California, San Diego is at 85 percent, as is the University of California, Irvine. Those numbers are roughly on par with the graduation rates for non-Pell recipients.
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