The U.S. Department of Education has released a report praising colleges and universities that do the most to promote access, opportunity and success to low-income students. No Washington colleges were on the list.
Why not? The Education Department didn’t answer a request for the underlying data, but much of the information used is already public — from lists such as the College Scorecard data, The Education Trust’s Pell Partnership project, Institute for Higher Education Policy’s Serving their Share report, and The New York Times’s Upshot College Access Index.
The Education Department’s list heralded schools that have significantly increased their number and share of Pell grant-eligible students in the last five years, and the schools highlighted had many more Pell Grant recipients than any other college or university in Washington — at many of the schools, about half the students were Pell Grant recipients. (Pell Grants are the primary federal aid program to help low-income students pay for college.)
Some Washington schools — notably, the University of Washington — have a long-standing policy of helping low-income students, with programs such as Husky Promise, and the number of students receiving those grants hasn’t changed much in five years. At the UW, about a third of in-state undergraduates qualify for Husky Promise, and pay no tuition.
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Here’s a closer look at what Washington colleges and universities are doing for low-income students, drawn from the same public reports used to create the Department of Education’s list:
The UW has done well in Washington Monthly’s annual college ranking, which was the principal source cited by the Institute for Higher Education Policy’s report. About 25 percent of UW undergraduates receive Pell Grants, and the UW graduates 81 percent of its students. Given its enrollment mix, Washington Monthly predicted that the UW would graduate 70 percent of its students, so a high score in that area is why UW rated seventh in the country by Washington Monthly.
The UW has also scored well in The New York Times’ Upshot index, which examines the share of students who receive Pell grants, the graduation rates of those students, and the price that colleges charge both low- and middle-income students. It ranks the UW 13th among national colleges and universities for providing access to low-income students. (The newspaper’s index shows that only 17 percent of UW students are on Pell grants; it’s unclear why Washington Monthly and the NYT use different numbers.)
The Evergreen State College was listed as a standout by The Education Trust because 60 percent of its Pell Grant students graduated in 2013, a rate that was nearly identical to students not receiving Pell grants. At Evergreen, 32 percent of the freshman class of 2013 received Pell grants.
About 32 percent of Washington State University undergrads receive Pell Grants, and WSU graduates 66 percent of its students on-time — better than the predicted rate of 57 percent, according to Washington Monthly.
About a quarter of Western Washington University students have Pell Grants, and the university graduates about 70 percent of its students — higher than Washington Monthly’s predicted rate of 60 percent.
Washington Monthly’s list did not include figures from Central Washington or Eastern Washington universities. However, a state source, the Statewide Four-Year Public Dashboard, showed that about 51 percent of CWU students who received Pell Grants (or the state’s equivalent, the State Need Grant) had graduated after six years. At EWU, about 41 percent of EWU students who received Pell or State Need Grant had graduated after six years.
Among the private schools, Pell Grant participation ranges from a low of 12 percent at Whitman College to a high of 31 percent at Seattle Pacific University, according to Washington Monthly figures. Here are the numbers for some other private schools: University of Puget Sound, 22 percent; Whitworth University, 23 percent; Pacific Lutheran University, 29 percent; Seattle University, 22 percent; Gonzaga University, 20 percent.