The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) applauds the U.S. Department of Education (ED) for its new report's emphasis on how well colleges and universities help low-income students enter and complete college. The report, Fulfilling the Promise, Serving the Need: Advancing College Opportunity for Low-Income Students, was released today.
Higher education is a major pathway to social and economic mobility, but many institutions that should be helping students move forward are instead failing to enroll enough low-income undergraduates. As a result, tens of thousands of young people are missing their first, critical step toward opportunity. On the other hand, some institutions are doing quite well in this area -- and those schools' best practices can serve as models to all of higher education.
Fulfilling the Promise helpfully lists public and private four-year colleges that the Department of Education has identified as excelling in both access and success, and gives particular kudos to institutions and practices that help low-income students. The report makes clear the need for all institutions to focus on enrolling and graduating low-income students, including selective colleges where students have the best chance at succeeding.
IHEP is pleased to see that Fulfilling the Promise lists plainly some of the promising practices used by successful institutions, including:
- Providing need-based grant aid;
- Going beyond test scores in admissions decisions; and
- Targeting high-achieving, low-income students in recruiting efforts.
The report also underscores the critical roles that Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), community colleges, and state policies play in supporting the success of all students.
IHEP's own work, Serving Their Share, is prominently cited in Fulfilling the Promise as well. Released in October, Serving Their Share explored the ways in which some colleges and universities are-or are not-enrolling low-income students. For example, both IHEP's report and ED's report recognize the University of California, Irvine for outperforming other institutions in enrolling low-income students and maintaining strong student outcomes.
Institutions like those profiled in Serving Their Share show what is possible when colleges focus pointedly on serving low-income students well. Higher education must expand these efforts to offer greater opportunities for all qualified low-income students. As ED's report shows, less than 10 percent of four-year institutions with available data enroll more than 40 percent of their student body as Pell recipients and graduate more than half of their Pell recipients.
With so few colleges meeting these access and success benchmarks, it is clear we have a long way to go before low-income students are afforded a truly equitable chance at a college degree and the lifelong benefits it brings.