Measuring Colleges’ Success Graduating Low-Income Students

U.S. News shows which schools over- and underperform at graduating low-income students.

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Updated 12/18/13: This post has been updated to move Rice University into the top performers category, after the school notified U.S. News that it incorrectly reported its graduation rate of students who received a Pell Grant.

U.S. News is publishing an exclusive analysis of how well colleges and universities are succeeding at graduating low-income students compared with the graduation rate of the overall student body.

Measuring the success of students with Pell Grants, federal aid to students from low-income families, is one key goal of the president's proposed college rating plan. The plan will use measures such as graduation rates and the number of students receiving Pell Grants to identify "colleges that do the most to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds as well as colleges that are improving their performance," according to a release. 

This listing, based on data that only U.S. News has collected, offers a preview of some of the outcomes that those developing the federal college rating plan need to consider. 

The Pell Grant program most often serves undergraduates with family incomes of less than $20,000. Schools must disclose the graduation rates of students who received a Pell Grant, students who received a subsidized Stafford loan but not a Pell Grant, and students who received neither under the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2009. 

These three separate graduation rates indicate if a college is successful in serving students from different income levels

U.S. News collected these income-based graduation rate data for the fall 2006 entering class as part of our data collection for the 2014 Best Colleges rankings. This information, which U.S. News has collected since 2012 as part of its spring survey of colleges and universities, is not currently being collected by the U.S. Department of Education, so it is unlikely that those developing the federal college rating plan will be able to measure Pell Grant graduation rates separately. 

The three separate graduation rates are not part of the 2014 Best Colleges rankings methodology, but this important outcome measure may be incorporated into the rankings model in future years. 

In the analysis below, we have used this data to show which schools in the U.S. News National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges rankings categories are top performers, overperformers and underperformers when comparing the six-year graduation rate of their Pell Grant students with the six-year rate of the entire graduating class. 

U.S. News has defined top-performing schools for this list as those with overall six-year graduation rates of 70 percent or higher and where Pell Grant students graduate at the same rate as the overall student body, plus or minus 1 percentage point. In other words, all the students at these schools – no matter their income level – are graduating at the same high level. 

Those developing the federal college ratings will have to determine what methodology and benchmarks they will use to determine which colleges are overperforming and underperforming for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

Of the 510 ranked schools in the National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges categories, 317 submitted information to U.S. News on both the entire fall 2006 student body graduation rate and the graduation rate of Pell Grant students for the fall 2006 entering class. 

A number of schools ranked in the top 10 of their categories didn't give U.S. News their income-based graduation rate data: Harvard University, Columbia University, University of Chicago, Duke University, Dartmouth College, Williams College, Pomona College and Davidson College. 

Top Performers

The table below shows the top performing schools in the National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges rankings categories, where Pell Grant students are graduating at close to the same, high graduation rates as the overall student body. 

College name (state) Rank and category 6-year overall graduation rate 6-year Pell Grant graduation rate Difference
Amherst College (MA) 2, National Liberal Arts Colleges 95 94 -1
Beloit College (WI) 59, National Liberal Arts Colleges 78 77 -1
Bowdoin College (ME) 4, National Liberal Arts Colleges 95 94 -1
Brown University (RI) 14, National Universities 95 96 1
Carnegie Mellon University (PA) 23, National Universities 87 86 -1
Clark University (MA) 75, National Universities 80 79 -1
Clarkson University (NY) 121, National Universities 71 70 -1
Franklin and Marshall College (PA) 45, National Liberal Arts Colleges 83 83 0
Lehigh University (PA) 41, National Universities 88 88 0
Lewis & Clark College (OR) 74, National Liberal Arts Colleges 76 75 -1
Loyola University Chicago 101, National Universities 70 71 1
Macalester College (MN) 24, National Liberal Arts Colleges 90 90 0
McDaniel College (MD) 126, National Liberal Arts Colleges 74 75 1
Northeastern University (MA) 49, National Universities 79 80 1
Northwestern University (IL) 12, National Universities 93 93 0
Rice University (TX) 18, National Universities 92 91 -1
St. Lawrence University (NY) 56, National Liberal Arts Colleges 80 79 -1
Stonehill College (MA) 115, National Liberal Arts Colleges 80 80 0
Transylvania University (KY) 76, National Liberal Arts Colleges 74 75 1
Trinity College (CT) 36, National Liberal Arts Colleges 83 82 -1
Union College (NY) 41, National Liberal Arts Colleges 83 83 0
University of California—Irvine 49, National Universities 86 85 -1
University of California—Santa Cruz 86, National Universities 77 77 0
Washington and Lee University (VA) 14, National Liberal Arts Colleges 90 90 0

Overperformers 

This table shows which National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges are graduating Pell Grant students at higher rates than the overall student body, and are thus overperforming. 

College name (state) Rank and category 6-year overall graduation rate 6-year Pell Grant graduation rate Overperformance
South Carolina State University RNP*, National Universities 34 61 27
Ave Maria University (FL) RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges 60 71 11
St. Michael's College (VT) 89, National Liberal Arts Colleges 82 92 10
Occidental College (CA) 41, National Liberal Arts Colleges 84 93 9
Harvey Mudd College (CA) 16, National Liberal Arts Colleges 88 96 8
Willamette University (OR) 61, National Liberal Arts Colleges 77 85 8
Mount Holyoke College (MA) 38, National Liberal Arts Colleges 81 88 7
Connecticut College 45, National Liberal Arts Colleges 85 91 6
Dickinson College (PA) 45, National Liberal Arts Colleges 85 91 6
Polytechnic Institute of New York University 128, National Universities 62 68 6
University of San Francisco 117, National Universities 67 73 6
Wellesley College (MA) 7, National Liberal Arts Colleges 92 98 6
Claremont McKenna College (CA) 9, National Liberal Arts Colleges 92 97 5
Colgate University (NY) 20, National Liberal Arts Colleges 90 95 5
Colorado College 31, National Liberal Arts Colleges 90 95 5
Warren Wilson College (NC) 167, National Liberal Arts Colleges 57 62 5
Bryn Mawr College (PA) 30, National Liberal Arts Colleges 82 86 4
Lake Forest College (IL) 110, National Liberal Arts Colleges 70 74 4
Oberlin College (OH) 25, National Liberal Arts Colleges 85 89 4
Oglethorpe University (GA) 165, National Liberal Arts Colleges 55 59 4
SUNY College—Old Westbury RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges 35 39 4
Wofford College (SC) 65, National Liberal Arts Colleges 84 88 4
College of the Atlantic (ME) 93, National Liberal Arts Colleges 64 67 3
Pepperdine University (CA) 57, National Universities 81 84 3
Skidmore College (NY) 45, National Liberal Arts Colleges 88 91 3
Smith College (MA) 20, National Liberal Arts Colleges 85 88 3
Stony Brook University-SUNY 82, National Universities 70 73 3
Swarthmore College (PA) 3, National Liberal Arts Colleges 92 95 3
University of La Verne (CA) 161, National Universities 59 62 3

Underperformers 

This table shows which National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges graduate Pell Grant students at lower rates than the overall student body, and are thus underperforming. 

College name (state) Rank and category 6-year overall graduation rate 6-year Pell Grant graduation rate Underperformance
Auburn University (AL) 91, National Universities 68 47 -21
Lyon College (AR) 167, National Liberal Arts Colleges 49 28 -21
Hendrix College (AR) 82, National Liberal Arts Colleges 72 52 -20
Eastern Mennonite University (VA) 180, National Liberal Arts Colleges 59 40 -19
Georgetown College (KY) 146, National Liberal Arts Colleges 60 42 -18
Salem College (NC) 156, National Liberal Arts Colleges 62 44 -18
William Jewell College (MO) 146, National Liberal Arts Colleges 69 51 -18
Wisconsin Lutheran College RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges 58 41 -17
Millsaps College (MS) 82, National Liberal Arts Colleges 72 56 -16
Sewanee—University of the South (TN) 38, National Liberal Arts Colleges 78 62 -16
University of Cincinnati 135, National Universities 62 46 -16
University of Toledo (OH) RNP, National Universities 45 29 -16
Illinois State University 152, National Universities 71 56 -15
Indiana University—Bloomington 75, National Universities 75 60 -15
Northern Illinois University 177, National Universities 54 39 -15
St. Mary's University of Minnesota 173, National Universities 62 47 -15
University of Kentucky 119, National Universities 58 43 -15
Linfield College (OR) 123, National Liberal Arts Colleges 67 53 -14
University of Arkansas 128, National Universities 60 46 -14
University of Minnesota—Twin Cities 69, National Universities 73 59 -14
University of Missouri 97, National Universities 71 57 -14
University of Oklahoma 101, National Universities 66 52 -14
University of Richmond (VA) 25, National Liberal Arts Colleges 83 69 -14
Virginia Military Institute 65, National Liberal Arts Colleges 71 57 -14

*RNP denotes an institution that is ranked in the bottom one-fourth of its rankings category. U.S. News calculates a rank for the school but has decided not to publish it. 

The graduation rate data above are correct as of Oct. 17, 2013.