UC System Shines in Support of Low-Income Students

Colleges need to do more when it comes to enrolling and graduating low-income students. If college degrees are “the great equalizer” then expanding access to those degrees will help make society more equal. Are any colleges succeeding in doing that?

One of the most common ways to understand how colleges are serving low-income students is by looking at how well they help students who are eligible to receive Pell Grants, or need-based federal grants. Three-quarters of Pell Grant recipients come from families that make less than $40,000 a year.

In a new report from Third Way, a center-left think tank, fewer than half of first-time, full-time Pell students graduate at the institution they started at within six years. By contrast, students who are not eligible to receive a Pell Grant do much better and, nationally, are 18-percent more likely to graduate within that time period.

The report also found that schools in the University of California system are doing significantly better than other four-year colleges and universities in the country when it comes to enrolling low-income students and seeing them across the finish line. Of the public and private nonprofit schools with a higher-than-average Pell-awardee enrollment rate, the UCs occupy five of the top 10 slots in terms of graduating students. Among only public institutions, they are the top seven.

In 2017, The New York Times reported that the UCs were among the top colleges in propelling students to higher income brackets. According to data released by the Equal Opportunity Project, UCLA enrolled the most low- and middle-income students among elite colleges. And the University of California at Irvine was fourth among colleges that propelled students from the bottom fifth of the income distribution to the top three-fifths.

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