How Successful Are Colleges at Graduating Low-Income Students?

US News

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 rankingsmethodology. 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.

Overperformers

The table below shows the top overperforming schools in the National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges ranking categories, where Pell grant students are graduating at higher rates than the overall student body.

School name (state) U.S. News rank & category 6-year graduation rate (overall) 6-year graduation rate (Pell) Overperformance
Florida Atlantic University RNP*, National Universities 43% 71% +28
Earlham College (IN) 82, National Liberal Arts Colleges 67% 85% +18
Pitzer College (CA) 43, National Liberal Arts Colleges 81% 97% +16
Moravian College (PA) 140, National Liberal Arts Colleges 76% 91% +15
New College of Florida 87, National Liberal Arts Colleges 68% 77% +9
University of San Francisco 106, National Universities 70% 77% +7
Wartburg College (IA) 151, National Liberal Arts Colleges 63% 70% +7
Polytechnic Institute of New York University 139, National Universities 54% 60% +6
Ouachita Baptist University (AR) 170, National Liberal Arts Colleges 63% 68% +5
Stonehill College (MA) 100, National Liberal Arts Colleges 81% 86% +5
University of Colorado--Denver 189, National Universities 40% 45% +5
University of Utah 125, National Universities 55% 60% +5

Underperformers

This table lists underperforming schools in the National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges ranking categories, where Pell grant students are graduating at lower rates than the overall student body.

School name (state) U.S. News rank & category 6-year graduation rate (overall) 6-year graduation rate (Pell) Underperformance
Hanover College (IN) 112, National Liberal Arts Colleges 71% 30% -41
St. Louis University 92, National Universities 71% 51% -20
College of the Atlantic (ME) 90, National Liberal Arts Colleges 71% 52% -19
Eastern Mennonite University (VA) 175, National Liberal Arts Colleges 66% 48% -18
University of Cincinnati 139, National Universities 59% 41% -18
University of Minnesota--Twin Cities 68, National Universities 70% 52% -18
Auburn University (AL) 89, National Universities 66% 49% -17
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges 53% 36% -17
University of Kansas 106, National Universities 61% 44% -17
Clemson University (SC) 68, National Universities 80% 64% -16
Indiana University--Bloomington 83, National Universities 72% 56% -16
Muhlenberg College (PA) 70, National Liberal Arts Colleges 86% 70% -16

*RNP denotes an institution that is ranked in the bottom one fourth of its rankings category. U.S. News calculates a rank for the school but has decided not to publish it.

The graduation rate data above are correct as of Oct. 4, 2012.

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