Data shows which Washington colleges and universities serve the most low-income students, and how their graduation rates compare.
Last week, after the U.S. Department of Education came out with a list of colleges and universities that do the most to promote access and success to low-income students, we noted that no Washington colleges were on the list.
The Education Department didn’t respond to our request for more information, but our friends at The Hechinger Report had some of the underlying data, and sent it our way.
The Hechinger Report’s take on the data concludes that “the figures further demonstrate the widening socioeconomic divide in which wealthier students increasingly enroll at elite private and flagship public universities while lower-income ones are relegated to second-tier public and for-profit institutions and community colleges with fewer resources and often poor success rates.”
To some degree, that may be true in Washington as well. But the data was missing for many schools in this state — including for-profit schools and community colleges.
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The chart below shows the number of Pell Grant recipients that go to Washington colleges and universities, and how their graduation rates compare with their non-Pell Grant peers. (Pell Grant students typically come from families who make $40,000 or less per year.) The smaller the difference in graduation rate, the better that school may be doing in serving its low-income students.
At a few Washington schools, Pell Grant recipients actually do slightly better than their non-Pell-Grant peers — most notably, Whitworth, The Evergreen State College, the University of Washington Bothell and Gonzaga University.
The gap between low-income and overall student graduation rates is more than 6 percentage points at Washington State University, Whitman College, Northwest University and Pacific Lutheran University.
Then again, some of these schools have strong overall graduation rates. For example, Whitman has a gap between low-income and overall student graduation rates, but it also has a very high graduation rate — more than 80 percent of its Pell students graduated in 2013. That’s higher than the overall graduation rate at most of the state’s colleges and universities.
On the other hand, Whitman — one of the state’s most expensive private colleges — has the smallest number of Pell Grant recipients of any school in the state. Only about 10 percent of the school’s students qualify as low-income.
There was hardly any difference in graduation rates between Pell Grant and non-Pell Grant students at UW Tacoma, which serves a very high percentage of low-income students. On the other hand, less than half of full-time students at the Tacoma campus graduated in six years. (UW officials say that graduation rate is steadily improving.)
At three schools, 30 percent or more of students were Pell Grant recipients, and 60 percent or more of them graduated in six years: UW Bothell, Seattle Pacific University, and Pacific Lutheran University. Both The Evergreen State College and Washington State College came very close to that measure, with Pell Grant graduation rates of 59.5 percent and 59.2 percent, respectively.
The UW Seattle campus had the highest Pell Grant-recipient graduation rate of any public university in the state. In 2013, more than 77 percent of its low-income students graduated on-time.
(This data relies on federal measures of student success, which have a weakness: Students who transfer to another university aren’t counted, even if they successfully complete their degree elsewhere. A recent study suggests that the nation’s college graduation rates are better than federal graduation rates show.)