March 2019

The share of college students graduating within four years from the college where they started and attended full-time is a longstanding measure of how students are faring — and how institutions are performing. Now new federal data have been released that reveal these results for the first time for low-income students, measured by those who receive Pell Grants.

At our 17 nonprofit institutions, 54 percent of our first-time, full-time students who receive Pell Grants graduated in four years.

4-year graduation rate of Pell Grant recipients

The share of Pell Grant recipients graduating in four years at Minnesota Private Colleges ranks first in the nation when we compare it to other states’ averages for private nonprofit colleges and their averages for public universities. And looking within Minnesota, the rate for Minnesota Private Colleges is the best in the state, above the University of Minnesota (40 percent) and Minnesota State (18 percent). That’s good news for low-income families — and our whole state.

But there is more to be done to support students receiving Pell Grants. There’s a significant gap between the rate for Pell Grant recipients and the rate for non-Pell Grant recipients — a difference of 16 points. A similar gap has existed for students of color and Native American students when compared to white students.

How students who receive Pell Grants are faring is important, given that they represent a large share of college students. Last year at Minnesota Private Colleges, 27 percent of first-time students received Pell Grants; that share is 17 percent at the U of M and 27 percent at Minnesota State universities.

Having students who receive Pell Grants move through college and complete their degrees in a timely way is also important given it impacts the costs they incur. If full-time students take longer than four years to earn a degree, they’re not only going to have additional tuition costs and larger student debt, they’ll also face an opportunity cost — the income they won’t be earning by being done and in the workforce full-time.

At the root of the concerns about students who receive Pell Grants is the question of equity. Even though our economy needs more skilled workers than ever, too many Minnesotans from lower-income families are not earning college degrees. This is a concern for students of color and Native American students as well, given our state’s sizable attainment gap tied to race and ethnicity.

“These attainment gaps need to be closed if we’re going to be the state we aspire to be,” said Paul Cerkvenik, president, Minnesota Private College Council. “Minnesota must reduce economic barriers to educational success for lower-income Minnesotans. When more students succeed, we’ll all win, with a stronger economy and stronger communities.”

For more on four-year graduation rates for Pell Grant students, see the Council’s new report.

By John Manning