Do Top Colleges Enroll Enough Pell Grant Students?

A new study says most top institutions lag behind the national average.

By SHARE

Are the leading U.S. universities doing enough to get more students from lower-income families to enroll in their institutions? Are recently announced initiatives to increase financial aid, reduce loans, and decrease parental contributions helping to bring more of the nation's neediest students to the nation's top-ranked schools?

The answer so far is a clear no, based on a December 2007 article in Postsecondary Education Opportunity titled "Pell Grant Enrollment at America's 'Best' Universities and Colleges FY 2000 to FY 2008" by Thomas G. Mortenson. A higher-education policy analyst, Mortenson looked at universities and liberal arts colleges that ranked in the top half of the National Universities and Liberal Arts Colleges categories in the U.S. News 2008 America's Best Colleges rankings to determine trends of enrollment of undergraduate students with Pell Grants (federally funded need-based aid to students from low- and middle-income families) at those schools. It found that between fiscal year 2000 and 2006, there was a 36.7 percent increase in the number of Pell Grant recipients nationwide. But among the schools in the top half of the U.S. News National Universities ranking, the total number of Pell Grant recipients increased by just 9.2 percent in this time period. Even more startling is that among the schools in the top half of the U.S. News Liberal Arts Colleges' ranking, the total number of students receiving Pell Grants declined by 1.9 percent.

This means that both groups of top-ranked U.S. News colleges fell far short of the national average increase in the number of Pell Grant recipients. Mortenson says that some of these top-ranked schools have made real efforts to enroll more of these students from the lower-income families. However, he believes that the fact that many more of them seem not to be trying to enroll Pell recipients "suggests their disengagement from the demographic realities facing the U.S."

Which schools are the Pell Grant winners and losers in 2007 versus 2000?

Only four national universities beat the overall average increase in Pell Grant recipients.

The 10 national universities with the largest percentage increases in Pell Grant recipients

Harvard University (MA)     52.5

University of California-San Diego      42.9

University of Pittsburgh      40.4

Arizona State University      39.3

University of Denver     36.1

Loyola University of Chicago     33.2

University of California-Davis     32.5

Illinois Institute of Technology     31.0

University of California-Riverside     30.4

Brown University (RI)     29.1

The 10 national universities with the biggest percentage declines in Pell Grant recipients

St. Louis University     -43.1

University of Southern California     -30.3

University of San Diego      -25.7

Yeshiva University (NY)      -25.1

Lehigh University (PA)      -23.6

University of Tulsa (OK)     -21.7

Cornell University (NY)     -21.5

Tulane University (LA)      -20.9

Virginia Tech      -20.9

Stevens Institute of Technology (NJ)     -20.2

In the liberal arts category, only one college beat the average.

The 10 liberal arts colleges with the largest percentage increases in Pell Grant recipients

University of Richmond (VA)      43.5

Ursinus College (PA)      33.5

Agnes Scott College (GA)      33.4

Randolph College (VA)     33.3

Lake Forest College (IL)     32.6

Spelman College (GA)     30.5

Hollins University (VA)     27.4

College of Holy Cross (MA)     27.3

Bennington College (VT)     26.1

Albion College (MI)     23.4

The 10 liberal arts colleges that had the biggest percentage declines in Pell Grant recipients

Washington College (MD)     -43.5

Pitzer College (CA)     -34.8

Oberlin College (OH)     -29.8

Occidental College (CA)     -29.8

Colorado College (CO)      -28.1

Bucknell University (PA)      -28.1

Dickinson College (PA)      -27.6

Claremont McKenna College (CA)     -27.2

Vassar College (NY)     -25.1

College of St. Benedict (MN)     -23.7

Source: Postsecondary Education Opportunity, December 2007, No. 186. Percentage changes are calculated between fiscal years 2000 and 2001 compared with fiscal years 2006 and 2007.