Report Shows Similar Educational Success by Federal Grant Recipients and Non-Recipients

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by Michelle D. Anderson

Pell Grant recipients experience patterns of educational success similar to non-beneficiaries of the federal government’s grant aid program, according to a study released by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) on Tuesday.

The study, “A Profile of Successful Pell Grant Recipients: Time to Bachelor’s Degree and Early Graduate School Enrollment,” found no measurable differences between recipients and non-recipients in the percentage of those who enrolled in a graduate program within one year after college.

“It’s expected that people might be surprised to learn that students who use a Pell Grant are no less likely to get on to graduate school than those who didn’t use a Pell Grant,” said Tom Weko, associate commissioner of postsecondary studies at NCES. “It’s actually kind of counterintuitive.”

The study examined the time it took recipients to compete a bachelor’s degree and the period between college graduation and graduate school enrollment. The study specified  early graduate school enrollment as enrolling in a graduate program within a year of receiving a bachelor’s degree. The data for the report derived from the “2000-01 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study,” which represents a sample of college graduates from all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

Pell Grant recipients tended to have strikingly different socioeconomic and family backgrounds that have often been factors among students who have lower graduation rates. Recipients were more likely to be non-White and come from low-income households. They are also more likely to come from a non-English-speaking home as well as be older and more likely to be single parents than non-grant recipients.

Among Pell Grant recipients who have earned bachelor’s degrees, the study found that, although recipients had a longer median time to degree than non-recipients, Pell Grant recipients received degrees in a shorter time when researchers used multivariate analysis, which controlled for several variables concurrently.

Weko told Diverse that NCES hopes higher education institutions, policy-makers, associations that represent college presidents, and organizations serving low-income students will use the data and findings found in the study.

The study, which was authored by Christina Chang Wei, a senior research associate, and Laura Horn, program director for postsecondary education and transition to college at MPR Associates Inc., an education research and consulting firm, found that 60 percent of Pell Grant recipients were financially dependent after graduation as compared to 34 non-recipients.

Educational attainment by the parents of students was the only factor consistently related to both time-to-degree and graduate school enrollment for Pell Grant recipients. Those whose parents did not attend college took longer to attain a bachelor’s degree and enrolled in graduate school at lower rates than recipients whose parents had at least a bachelor’s degree, the report’s authors found.

The authors and other representatives said that no casual inferences should be drawn from the study’s results.

“We’re trying to make a distinction between description and causation,” Weko said. “We’re not actually saying that the Pell Grant is causing these students to achieve these results or that the grant is causing them to go to graduate school.”

The federal Pell Grant program, which has been the nation’s largest need-based program for low-income undergraduates, was created to help such students finish their studies in a timely manner.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in an official statement that, in the current economy, the need for financial aid is greater than ever and that the NCES report reflects this reality. He stated that, through the fiscal 2009 budget and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the maximum Pell Grant will increase to $5,550, which is an $819 increase over two years ago.

“The Pell Grant program and other federal financial aid programs are an economic lifeline for students at colleges and universities. Without that aid, students will struggle to get the education they need to compete in the international economy,” Duncan said.

According to U.S Department of Education data, during the 2007-08 academic year, 5.4 million students received Pell Grants, and, during the 2008-09 school year, the maximum Pell Grant award was $4,731.

The NCES study found that nearly nine out of 10 Pell Grant recipients borrowed money to pay for school as compared to nearly 50 percent of non-recipients The average cumulative amount of borrowed funds was $18,500 for recipients and $17,000 for non-recipients.

“It’s good to know that the Pell Grant is working in conjunction with other things,” Weko said, referring to work study, scholarships, and other federal student loan programs. “There’s large evidence of self-help. They’re making an investment in their future.”



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