Monday, November 15, 2010

Now Here's an Idea I Fully Support!

by Jonathan Robe

Over at the Quick and the Ed, Ben Miller has had a couple of very good posts (here and here) on the subject of Pell Grants and the effect they have (or rather don't have) on college affordability. I highly encourage you to read both of them, if you have not already.

An excerpt from his second post (my emphasis):
Providing several thousand dollars annually to students is a very expensive undertaking... If advocates want to strenuously argue for keeping Pell, then other options should be on the table—things like tax credits that are less effective public policy anyway. And schools need to do a better job highlighting why Pell matters. Colleges need to publish graduation rates of Pell students, there needs to be better documentation of why it matters at a personal level. Just continuing to say we need to spend money on Pell to spend money on Pell won’t work anymore.
Now there's an idea which I can fully embrace! We can tell how much money the Pell program is pumping into schools and how many students receive Pell funding, but we can tell precious little about whether the taxpayer investment in Pell Grants is actually worth all that colleges would make it out to be. Take City College of CUNY as an example (albeit an extreme one). According to the NCES, a majority of City College undergraduates (55%) receive Pell Grants, yet only 6% actually graduate within four years! If we extend the window to six years, still only 35% of students graduate from City College. Thus, at a school where the majority of students receive Pell Grants, a majority of students don't even graduate within six years. (Of course, I suppose I should add here the obligatory caveat about difficulties with the report graduation figures, but the point I'm making here is, I think, largely correct.)

How many of those students who don't graduate are the same ones receiving Pell Grants? We don't know, but we ought to know. Colleges owe it to taxpayers to be accountable for how they use all of the tax funds they receive, particularly from the Pell program. And Miller is right; colleges should do this on their own and with gusto, not dragging their feet until they are required to do so.

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