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Finding 4. Pell Students Tend to Be Concentrated at the Schools with the Worst Outcomes

Finding 4. Pell Students Tend to Be Concentrated at the Schools with the Worst Outcomes

There are significant gaps in outcomes for students who attend top-quartile and bottom-quartile schools.

Using our “mobility metric” outlined above, we mapped how well four-year public schools were delivering for low- and moderate-income students on a variety of metrics, including graduation rates, the percentage of students earning more than $25,000/year, and the percentage of students able to enter into repayment on their loans. By dividing the schools based on their “mobility score” into quartiles, we were able to see the wide gap in quality that exists between public colleges and universities-with top-quartile schools significantly more likely to fulfill the promise of mobility for students than their bottom-quartile peers. Specifically, when looking at the data for completion and repayment:

  • There is a 35.7 point difference between the average completion rate at top-quartile schools (66.5%) and the average completion rate at bottom-quartile schools (30.9%).
  • There is a nearly 30 point gap between the average repayment rate at top-quartile schools (90.0%) and bottom-quartile schools (60.7%).
  • There is a 20.3 point difference between the proportion of students who make more than a typical high school graduate at top-quartile schools (73.1%) and bottom-quartile schools (52.8%)

Not all public schools are created equal.

Similar gaps in the outcomes between top- and bottom-quartile schools were also evident in our analysis of the four-year private, non-profit peers (for example, there was a 39 point completion gap, a 29 point repayment gap, and a 28 point earnings gap between the top-tier and bottom-tier schools). However, with a wide variety of actors falling under the private, non-profit umbrella-from elite Ivy Leagues to small bible colleges and art schools-such gaps are more obvious to consumers. When thinking about the public sector, many students and families may be inclined to lump schools together even if the outcome data varies widely from campus to campus within the same state system. For example, Indiana University-Bloomington graduates more than three-quarters of its first-time, full-time student body, whereas Indiana University-Southeast located less than 100 miles down the road has an average graduation rate under 30%. This type of chasm in outcomes only underscores the need to provide more robust and transparent data for consumers as they select their institution of choice.

Since the 1970’s, the federal Pell grant program has opened the doors to higher education for millions of low- and moderate-income students each year. 25 Today, eligible students can receive up to $5,815 in Pell grant funding per year, as determined by a variety of factors, such as their financial need and annual cost of attendance, with the majority of students coming from families making an adjusted gross income below $50,000. 26 According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Pell serves as the “largest federal grant program available to undergraduate students,” with American taxpayers investing over $30 billion dollars in 2015 alone to benefit more than 8 million recipients. 27 Given the lower tuitions available at most public colleges and universities, it should be no surprise that these institutions are often a popular option for Pell students seeking a postsecondary education.

Public institutions with larger Pell populations struggle.

Yet, mirroring our findings at private, non-profit institutions, the data reveals the public institutions with the highest concentrations of Pell students overwhelmingly have the worst outcomes: the lowest completion rates, the fewest percentage of students earning more than a high school diploma post-enrollment, and the largest share of students unable to begin paying down their student loans. On the flip side, many of our country’s top public institutions are not doing their fair share to provide mobility to the Pell students who need it the most.

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