Upon Further Review: Revisiting Pell and Transfer Student Success

This blog post will serve as the conclusion of our series on student success using the IPEDS Outcome Measures (OM) data. This post is a follow-up to our previous post that showed an interesting case for transfer students who were Pell recipients when reviewing completion data at public 4-year institutions across America. Those data showed that Pell recipients outperformed non-Pell recipients in the 2014 cohort in terms of 8-year graduation rates (45% for Pell vs 42% for non-Pell). In order to better understand these outcomes, we pulled all six years of OM data from IPEDS to see if this initial finding was consistent over time. In short, the answer is…it depends. 

National Trends Over Time

When pulling the OM data from IPEDS for 2017-2022, it became apparent that the “sector” definition being used by IPEDS for “Public, 4-year or above” institutions does not match what historically has been considered to be the group of institutions that predominately award bachelor’s degrees or higher. Adding Carnegie Classifications to each of the 765 “public 4-year institutions” with first-time-in-college students in the IPEDS database in 2022 showed that 123 of those institutions were primarily associate’s degree institutions that offer at least one bachelor’s degree program. With these institutions included in the overall calculations, Pell recipients who were transfer students consistently out-performed non-Pell recipients in terms of graduation rates over time.  

However, when those primarily associate’s degree institutions were removed from the data, different trends for Pell versus Non-Pell recipients were revealed. As can be seen in the first visualization below (National Trends), Non-Pell transfer students at public 4-year universities with a Carnegie Classification of baccalaureate, master’s or doctoral institutions held an advantage over non-Pell transfer students across the six years in the OM data. The gap in 8-year bachelor’s degree completion rates ranged from 1 percentage point in 2018 to 3 percentage points in 2019 and 2020. In 2022, 58% of non-Pell recipients completed their bachelor’s degree after transferring in 2014, while 56% of Pell recipients finished in 8 years.

Texas Public University Systems
The trends in the national data are generally mirrored across public universities in Texas. As shown in the second visualization above (Texas University Systems), the statewide averages were higher than the national averages for both Pell and non-Pell recipients. Across the 35 public universities in Texas in the IPEDS data, 64% of non-Pell transfer students in the 2014 cohort completed a bachelor’s degree within 8 years, while 61% of Pell recipients did the same. These percentages were 6 percentage points higher than national averages for non-Pell recipients and 5 percentage points higher for Pell recipients.

When reviewing data at the public university system level, there is wider variance in terms of the distance between Pell and non-Pell recipients’ graduation rates, as well as several instances where the rank ordering of Pell versus non-Pell is reversed. 

  • The Texas A&M University System (TAMUS) had the highest percentage of transfer students graduate within 8 years when compared to the other public university systems in Texas. Almost 72% of non-Pell transfer students graduated from TAMUS universities in 2022, a percentage that was almost 8 percentage points higher than the state average and 7 percentage points higher than the next-highest university system average in Texas. Interestingly, the 65% graduation rate for Pell recipient transfer students at TAMUS universities in 2022 was higher than the non-Pell graduation rates for each of the other systems and the statewide average.
  • There were several instances in the OM data where Pell recipient transfer students outperformed their non-Pell counterparts within the respective public university systems in Texas. Most notable is within the University of Houston System (UHS), where Pell transfer students were equal to or exceeded non-Pell transfer students in the last three years of data. In 2022, 60.4% of Pell transfer students at UHS universities completed a bachelor’s degree within 8 years as compared to 58% of non-Pell recipients from UHS institutions.

So What?

Given that this blog post concludes our series on IPEDS Outcome Measures (OM) data, we wanted to provide a quick list of takeaways from the six blog posts in this series.

  • The OM data introduced 8-year timeframes for completion metrics as opposed to the traditional 6-year window. Additionally, cohorts for part-time students, transfer students, and Pell versus non-Pell recipients were included along with the traditional first-time, full-time student cohorts.
  • The extended timeframe for bachelor’s degree completion seemed to benefit institutions with the highest percentage of Hispanic students enrolled in the 2014 OM cohort, including UTEP, UTRGV, TAMIU, and TAMUK.
  • Although transfer student outcomes are being tracked in the OM data, there is complexity in calculating graduation rates within cohorts. While the clock starts ticking at the point of transfer for OM graduation rates, transfer students have varying lengths of pre-transfer college attendance. For example, for students who had 4 years of previous college/university attendance, the 8-year OM graduation rate is actually a 12-year graduation cycle for that student.
  • Part-time students struggle greatly to complete a bachelor’s degree within 8 years of entry. In Texas, only 4 in 10 first-time-in-college part-time students graduated within 8 years, with 55% of part-time transfer students finishing a bachelor’s degree within 8 years.
  • Pell status seems to have a greater effect on first-time-in-college enrollees in terms of graduation rates than for transfer students at public 4-year universities. In 2022, the gap between Pell and non-Pell recipients who were FTIC students was 17 percentage points (46% versus 63%, respectively), while the gap for transfer students was 2 percentage points (56% for Pell versus 58% for non-Pell).

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