A Bitter Pell
By Mamie Voight and Colleen Campbell
Higher education is a crucial pathway to social and economic mobility at a time when income inequality has reached record levels. Yet many of the public universities that should be helping students move forward are instead holding them back by failing to enroll enough low-income undergraduates. As a result, tens of thousands of young people are missing the first, critical step toward opportunity.
Which institutions could be doing a better job of enrolling and graduating more low-income students? The answer to that question, it turns out, can be derived from data in the Washington Monthly’s own rankings. Those rankings include a “predicted Pell enrollment rate” measure. This statistic compares the percentage of students enrolled at a given college who receive a federal Pell Grant to the percentage who would be statistically expected to enroll, given the college’s selectivity. Importantly, this calculation does not suggest that every selective college must enroll huge proportions of low-income students—only as many as other, academically similar colleges have already enrolled.
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