Measuring Colleges' Success Graduating Low-Income Students

Robert J. Morse and Diane Tolis

U.S. News is publishing an exclusive analysis of how well colleges and universities are succeeding at graduating low-income students compared with the graduation rate of the overall student body.

Measuring the success of students with Pell Grants, federal aid to students from low-income families, is one key goal of the president's proposed college rating plan. The plan will use measures such as graduation rates and the number of students receiving Pell Grants to identify "colleges that do the most to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds as well as colleges that are improving their performance," according to a release.

This listing, based on data that only U.S. News has collected, offers a preview of some of the outcomes that those developing the federal college rating plan need to consider.

The Pell Grant program most often serves undergraduates with family incomes of less than $20,000. Schools must 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 under the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2009.

These three separate graduation rates indicate if a college is successful in serving students from different income levels.

U.S. News collected these income-based graduation rate data for the fall 2006 entering class as part of our data collection for the 2014 Best Colleges rankings. This information, which U.S. News has collected since 2012 as part of its spring survey of colleges and universities, is not currently being collected by the U.S. Department of Education, so it is unlikely that those developing the federal college rating plan will be able to measure Pell Grant graduation rates separately.

The three separate graduation rates are not part of the 2014 Best Colleges rankings methodology, but this important outcome measure may be incorporated into the rankings model in future years.

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

U.S. News has defined top-performing schools for this list as those with overall six-year graduation rates of 70 percent or higher and where Pell Grant students graduate at the same rate as the overall student body, plus or minus 1 percentage point. In other words, all the students at these schools -- no matter their income level -- are graduating at the same high level.

Those developing the federal college ratings will have to determine what methodology and benchmarks they will use to determine which colleges are overperforming and underperforming for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Of the 510 ranked schools in the National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges categories, 317 submitted information to U.S. News on both the entire fall 2006 student body graduation rate and the graduation rate of Pell Grant students for the fall 2006 entering class.

A number of schools ranked in the top 10 of their categories didn't give U.S. News their income-based graduation rate data: Harvard University, Columbia University, University of Chicago, Duke University, Dartmouth College, Williams College, Pomona College and Davidson College.

Top Performers

The table below shows the top performing schools in the National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges rankings categories, where Pell Grant students are graduating at close to the same, high graduation rates as the overall student body.

College name (state)

Rank and category

6-year overall graduation rate

6-year Pell Grant graduation rate

Difference

Amherst College (MA)

2, National Liberal Arts Colleges

95

94

-1

Beloit College (WI)

59, National Liberal Arts Colleges

78

77

-1

Bowdoin College (ME)

4, National Liberal Arts Colleges

95

94

-1

Brown University (RI)

14, National Universities

95

96

1

Carnegie Mellon University (PA)

23, National Universities

87

86

-1

Clark University (MA)

75, National Universities

80

79

-1

Clarkson University (NY)

121, National Universities

71

70

-1

Franklin and Marshall College (PA)

45, National Liberal Arts Colleges

83

83

0

Lehigh University (PA)

41, National Universities

88

88

0

Lewis & Clark College (OR)

74, National Liberal Arts Colleges

76

75

-1

Loyola University Chicago

101, National Universities

70

71

1

Macalester College (MN)

24, National Liberal Arts Colleges

90

90

0

McDaniel College (MD)

126, National Liberal Arts Colleges

74

75

1

Northeastern University (MA)

49, National Universities

79

80

1

Northwestern University (IL)

12, National Universities

93

93

0

Rice University (TX)

12, National Universities

92

91

-1

St. Lawrence University (NY)

56, National Liberal Arts Colleges

80

79

-1

Stonehill College (MA)

115, National Liberal Arts Colleges

80

80

0

Transylvania University (KY)

76, National Liberal Arts Colleges

74

75

1

Trinity College (CT)

36, National Liberal Arts Colleges

83

82

-1

Union College (NY)

41, National Liberal Arts Colleges

83

83

0

University of California--Irvine

49, National Universities

86

85

-1

University of California--Santa Cruz

86, National Universities

77

77

0

Washington and Lee University (VA)

14, National Liberal Arts Colleges

90

90

0

Overperformers

This table shows which National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges are graduating Pell Grant students at higher rates than the overall student body, and are thus overperforming.

College name (state)

Rank and category

6-year overall graduation rate

6-year Pell Grant graduation rate

Overperformance

South Carolina State University

RNP*, National Universities

34

61

27

Ave Maria University (FL)

RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges

60

71

11

St. Michael's College (VT)

89, National Liberal Arts Colleges

82

92

10

Occidental College (CA)

41, National Liberal Arts Colleges

84

93

9

Harvey Mudd College (CA)

16, National Liberal Arts Colleges

88

96

8

Willamette University (OR)

61, National Liberal Arts Colleges

77

85

8

Mount Holyoke College (MA)

38, National Liberal Arts Colleges

81

88

7

Connecticut College

45, National Liberal Arts Colleges

85

91

6

Dickinson College (PA)

45, National Liberal Arts Colleges

85

91

6

Polytechnic Institute of New York University

128, National Universities

62

68

6

University of San Francisco

117, National Universities

67

73

6

Wellesley College (MA)

7, National Liberal Arts Colleges

92

98

6

Claremont McKenna College (CA)

9, National Liberal Arts Colleges

92

97

5

Colgate University (NY)

20, National Liberal Arts Colleges

90

95

5

Colorado College

31, National Liberal Arts Colleges

90

95

5

Warren Wilson College (NC)

167, National Liberal Arts Colleges

57

62

5

Bryn Mawr College (PA)

30, National Liberal Arts Colleges

82

86

4

Lake Forest College (IL)

110, National Liberal Arts Colleges

70

74

4

Oberlin College (OH)

25, National Liberal Arts Colleges

85

89

4

Oglethorpe University (GA)

165, National Liberal Arts Colleges

55

59

4

SUNY College--Old Westbury

RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges

35

39

4

Wofford College (SC)

65, National Liberal Arts Colleges

84

88

4

College of the Atlantic (ME)

93, National Liberal Arts Colleges

64

67

3

Pepperdine University (CA)

57, National Universities

81

84

3

Skidmore College (NY)

45, National Liberal Arts Colleges

88

91

3

Smith College (MA)

20, National Liberal Arts Colleges

85

88

3

Stony Brook University-SUNY

82, National Universities

70

73

3

Swarthmore College (PA)

3, National Liberal Arts Colleges

92

95

3

University of La Verne (CA)

161, National Universities

59

62

3

Underperformers

This table shows which National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges graduate Pell Grant students at lower rates than the overall student body, and are thus underperforming.

College name (state)

Rank and category

6-year overall graduation rate

6-year Pell Grant graduation rate

Underperformance

Auburn University (AL)

91, National Universities

68

47

-21

Lyon College (AR)

167, National Liberal Arts Colleges

49

28

-21

Hendrix College (AR)

82, National Liberal Arts Colleges

72

52

-20

Eastern Mennonite University (VA)

180, National Liberal Arts Colleges

59

40

-19

Georgetown College (KY)

146, National Liberal Arts Colleges

60

42

-18

Salem College (NC)

156, National Liberal Arts Colleges

62

44

-18

William Jewell College (MO)

146, National Liberal Arts Colleges

69

51

-18

Wisconsin Lutheran College

RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges

58

41

-17

Millsaps College (MS)

82, National Liberal Arts Colleges

72

56

-16

Sewanee--University of the South (TN)

38, National Liberal Arts Colleges

78

62

-16

University of Cincinnati

135, National Universities

62

46

-16

University of Toledo (OH)

RNP, National Universities

45

29

-16

Illinois State University

152, National Universities

71

56

-15

Indiana University--Bloomington

75, National Universities

75

60

-15

Northern Illinois University

177, National Universities

54

39

-15

St. Mary's University of Minnesota

173, National Universities

62

47

-15

University of Kentucky

119, National Universities

58

43

-15

Linfield College (OR)

123, National Liberal Arts Colleges

67

53

-14

University of Arkansas

128, National Universities

60

46

-14

University of Minnesota--Twin Cities

69, National Universities

73

59

-14

University of Missouri

97, National Universities

71

57

-14

University of Oklahoma

101, National Universities

66

52

-14

University of Richmond (VA)

25, National Liberal Arts Colleges

83

69

-14

Virginia Military Institute

65, National Liberal Arts Colleges

71

57

-14

*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. 17, 2013.