According to new analysis from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, the country’s most elite colleges can afford—financially and in terms of their own prestige—to enroll more Pell Grant recipients than they do.
Elite Colleges Enroll the Wealthy
A majority of Pell Grant recipients, in fact, attend open-access colleges that have graduation rates of less than 50%, but the Georgetown Center asserts that about 86,000 Pell Grant recipients are qualified—based on their SAT or ACT scores—to attend selective colleges that have high graduation rates.
Pell Grant recipients attending selective colleges graduate at nearly the same rate as their peers, but only 48% that attend open-access schools actually graduate. This is an enormous difference. Forty-seven percent of Pell Grant recipients are white; 24% are black. Only 2.4% of students who score above the median and attend selective colleges are black.
“Highly qualified Pell Grant students are being turned away from the opportunity for an elite college education, which is more and more open only to the wealthy,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Center and lead author of the report, in a statement.
The 20% Solution
The study results point to a kind of intentional hoarding. It found that many selective colleges average large budget surpluses, suggesting that enrolling Pell Grant recipients wouldn’t cause a financial strain.
The Georgetown Center is calling for a “20% solution”—the requirement that all selective colleges enroll at least 20% Pell Grant recipients.
“Competitive pressures keep elite colleges from admitting low-income students, even when they are qualified,” said Martin Van Der Werf, associate director of editorial and postsecondary policy at the Georgetown Center, and co-author of the report, in a statement. “If the colleges themselves won’t change their admissions policies, it’s worth considering whether we should require a minimum enrollment standard of 20% Pell Grant recipients.”
“Access to education determines class,” Carnevale told me in an e-mail. “Eighty percent of the increase in earnings difference since 1983 is due to differences in access to postsecondary education with labor market value. Class determines what neighborhood you live in and whether your children have access to better schools, which in turn gives you more access to selective colleges. Graduating from a selective college gives a student better access to graduate school, which then translates into access to higher earnings. As opposed to the 70s, when a high school degree was enough, this process now includes postsecondary education. Higher education is part of the institutional racism and class bias that results in the intergenerational reproduction of race and class inequality.”