Pell Recipients and the Interesting Case of Transfer Student Success

We continue our blog series on student success using the IPEDS Outcome Measures (OM) data with a look at outcomes for Pell versus non-Pell grant recipients. The Pell Grant program “provides grant assistance to eligible undergraduate postsecondary students with demonstrated financial need to help meet education expenses” (NCES). As previously discussed, the OM data includes categories for all combinations of first-time and transfer, full-time and part-time, and Pell grant and non-Pell grant students, making it a unique source for more granular data from the federal government. This post will cover national trends across all public 4-year institutions in America and will answer an important question: Is it true that Pell recipients take longer to attain an award than non-Pell recipients? NoteBecause the OM data includes 8-year graduation rate data, we continue to use the most recent data from the 2014 cohort in our analysis.

National OM Data for Public Universities: Overall
For the 2014 national cohort, there were 2.7 million first-time-in-college (FTIC) and transfer students who entered public 4-year institutions in America that are included in the OM data, with approximately 40% of those entering students receiving Pell grants. All students in the 2014 cohort were tracked through AY2022 to determine their 8-year outcome status across one of six categories: enrollment unknown, still enrolled at original university, enrolled at another institution, certificate earned, associate’s degree earned, or bachelor’s degree earned. For the three award status categories, only the highest award is counted per student. 

  • The first visualization below (“Overall”) shows how Pell grant recipients fared in 8-year outcomes compared to non-Pell grant recipients. 
  • More than one-quarter (26%) of Pell grant students were categorized as “enrollment unknown” after 8 years, meaning they had not earned an award and were not still enrolled somewhere in higher education. That percentage for non-Pell recipients was 20%.
  • When adding the award categories together, 49% of Pell recipients completed either a certificate (1%), an associate’s degree (9%), or a bachelor’s degree (39%) within 8 years of enrollment. By comparison, 56% of non-Pell recipients received an award within 8 years (1%, 8%, and 47% respectively across award categories).

National OM Data for Public Universities: Enrollment + Pell Status
Disaggregating the data by enrollment status (FTIC or transfer), we start to see some interesting trends in terms of outcomes for Pell students. 

  • The second visualization above (Enrollment + Pell) shows that Pell recipients who are FTIC students at point-of-entry fared worse than their non-Pell FTIC counterparts. Almost 30% (600K students) of FTIC Pell recipients were not enrolled and had not earned an award after 8 years, compared to 18% of non-Pell recipients in the 2014 cohort. Only 44% of FTIC Pell recipients (1% certificate, 9% associate’s, and 34% bachelor’s degree) had earned an award within 8 years, while 59% of FTIC non-Pell recipients had earned an award within 8 years (1% certificate, 6% associate’s, and 52% bachelor’s degree) within 8 years of enrollment.
  • For transfer students, Pell grant recipients out-performed their non-Pell recipient transfer colleagues in the 2014 cohort. More than 55% of Pell recipients who enrolled as transfers completed an award within 8 years, with 45% of those students earning a bachelor’s degree. The award completion rate for Pell recipients is 2 percentage points higher than non-Pell recipients (53% overall), while Pell recipients’ bachelor’s degree completion rate is 3 percentage points higher than non-Pell recipients (45% vs 42%, respectively).

So What?

The typical narrative related to outcomes for Pell grant recipients has been that they tend to struggle more to earn a certificate or degree than their non-Pell awarded counterparts. The data above show that when accounting for other variables, such as enrollment status at point-of-entry, that may not always be the case. For the transfer students in the 2014 OM cohort, Pell recipients have slightly better percentages for enrollment unknown (22% for Pell vs 23% for non-Pell), certificates (1.7% vs 1.2%) associate’s degrees (9.3% vs 9.2%), and bachelor’s degrees (45% vs 42%). The next question is whether these nationwide findings hold when viewed at a state- or institution-level perspective, which are data we will explore for Texas public universities in our next blog post.

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