Ask a Scholar: Graduation Rates with Pell Grants

Matthew Denhart

Dear Ask a Scholar,  

Has there been a report made comparing graduation rates with and without Pell Grants?

Landon Estay

Answered by Matthew Denhart, Administrative Director at the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP). He has co-authored several studies, ranging in topics from intercollegiate athletics to higher education in the states of Texas, Iowa and Michigan. His writings have appeared in The Wall Street Journaland

The federal government does not collect Pell Grant specific graduation rate data, despite spending over $28 billion on the Pell program in 2009-10. A 2002 study,[1] using nationally representative survey data from the 1996 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study, did compare the bachelor degree attainment rates between Pell Grant recipients and low- and middle-income nonrecipients who had similar SAT/ACT scores and had taken similarly rigorous courses in high school.

This analysis found that 46% of Pell recipients had received a Bachelor's degree within 6 years, compared to 51% of comparable non-recipients at 4-year public institutions. At 4-year private institutions, 56% of Pell recipients had received a BA within 6 years while 68% of non-recipients did the same. A more recent National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report[2] touches on the topic of the outcomes of Pell Grant students but does not provide specific data on graduation rates for those students.

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[1] Wei, C.C., and Horn, L. (2002). Persistence and Attainment of Beginning Students With Pell Grants (NCES 2002–169). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, available at:

[2] Wei, C.C., and Horn, L. (2009) A Profile of Successful Pell Grant Recipients: Time to Bachelor’s Degree and Early Graduate School Enrollment (NCES 2009-156). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC, available at:

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