Pell Grant Recipient Grad Rates Report: 7 Months Late and Counting. . .

December 15, 2014

Carrie Warick, Director of Partnerships and Policy

Last January, Congress requested that the Department of Education “submit a report to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees . . . on enrollment and graduation information for Pell Grant recipients for the 2012-2013 Pell Grant Award Year.” This report, due in May, is nearly seven months overdue. In fact, after putting this instruction in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, Congress repeated the request in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015. With the passage of the current spending bill, Congress is reiterating the importance of knowing where Pell Grant recipients are most successful.

Without this information, another class of high school seniors, not to mention the thousands of adults deciding to return to education this year, will make the decision on where to attend college without information on how those colleges serve low-income students. One of the primary goals of NCAN member programs is to help students not only access postsecondary education, but to do so at an institution where they are most likely to succeed. College advisors help students determine the right academic match and social and financial fit schools for their students. Unfortunately, they do not have complete information about the institutions because colleges and universities are only required to share their Pell Grant recipient graduation rates if a student asks. 

Because institutions are only required to disclose this information to students upon request, and not required to report this information to the U.S. Department of Education, the vast majority of students are not aware of any possible differences in how well low-income students fare at a particular school, even when compared to similar colleges. In fact, Kevin Carey and Andrew P. Kelly found in the 2011 study “The Truth behind Higher Education Disclosure Laws” that only 38% of the 100 institutions surveyed actually tracked and shared their Pell Grant recipient graduation rates with students when asked. Clearly the “disclose but not report” approach to sharing this information with students is not working.

For this reason, the Appropriations Committee’s request to use just one year of Pell Grant recipient graduation rate data is a first and very important step forward to make this information readily, and easily, available to students. While looking at one year of data from the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) is not perfect the perfect solution, it is the best source currently available. Because institutions are already required to report this information, it does not create a new burden on colleges. This impending report should also motivate colleges to give accurate and timely reports to the NSLDS if they have not already. One possible explanation for the report's delay is that the Department of Education is seeking to update inaccurate or out of date information from the colleges.

Examining only one year of data does not paint a complete picture, and sweeping changes or assumptions about the Pell Grant program as a whole should not be made based on one year of data. The better solution would be to add Pell Grant recipient graduation rates to the IPEDS data collection. This would allow for a more complete and direct comparison. But waiting for this implementation or a full six-year cohort of data from NSLDS to be available in 2019 is not a fair solution for students looking to start their postsecondary degrees now. 

Helping students make a more informed choice is why NCAN, along with other advocates, continues to seek access to information on Pell Grant Recipient graduation rates. Research from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows that students from different types of high schools enter college at varying rates and that students at different types of postsecondary institutions graduate at different rates. Education Trust researchers using College Results Online data show that even similar colleges have different graduation rates among racial groups. Adding the Pell Grant recipient graduation rate data to this information gives students and their advisors one more tool in selecting a college, and will showcase best practices in serving an important population of students. 

In January, Congress recognized that we must start somewhere – and using the first year of available data from the NSLDS is the best option at this time. The Department of Education must fulfill its obligation to Congress so that leaders and students alike have access to this valuable information. 



Excerpt from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 Joint Explanatory Language (PDF page 178)

“Recognizing the importance of improving the enrollment reporting process, the Department is directed to submit a report to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, no later than 120 days after the enactment of this act, on enrollment and graduation information for Pell Grant recipients for the 2012-2013 Pell Grant Award Year. The Department is also directed to continue to provide enrollment and graduation information to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees in the future as more robust and useful information becomes available. Since Pell Grant recipient enrollment and graduation information was not included until the 2012-2013 Pell Grant Award Year, it is understood that six year graduation cohort rates will not be available for analysis until 2019. 

“Additionally, while understanding the limitation of the data as the Department will only be able to report on student enrollment and graduation information for the 2012-2013 Pell Grant Award Year, the report should include enrollment and graduation information for Pell Grant recipients included in the NSLDS Enrollment Reporting roster files by each institution of higher education. The report should also include a plan to minimize the burden of these recent changes on institutions of higher education, a proposal to improve the tracking of enrollment and graduation rates for students that transfer and nontraditional students, and strategies to increase enrollment rates and improve graduation rates for Pell Grant recipients.”


Excerpt from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2015 Joint Explanatory Language (PDF page 99)

“The Department is directed to submit a report to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, no later than 120 days after the enactment of this Act on enrollment and graduation information for Pell Grant recipients included in the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) Enrollment Reporting roster files for the 2013-2014 Pell Grant Award Year. The Department is also directed to continue to provide enrollment and graduation information to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees in the future as more robust and useful information becomes available.

“Since Pell Grant recipient enrollment and graduation information was not included in the NSLDS Enrollment Reporting roster files as a separate category for an institution's Pell Grants-only recipients until the 2012-2013 Pell Grant Award Year, it is understood that six year graduation cohort rates will not be available for analysis until 2019. While understanding the limitation of the data, the report should continue to include enrollment and graduation information for Pell Grant recipients by each institution of higher education. The report should also include an updated plan to minimize the burden of recent changes to the NSLDS Enrollment Reporting roster files on institutions of higher education, an updated proposal to improve the tracking of enrollment and graduation rates for students that transfer and nontraditional students, and strategies to increase enrollment and improve graduation rates for Pell Grant recipients.”










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