Free the Pell Graduation Data!

Today is an exciting data in my little corner of academia, as the end of the partial government shutdown means that federal education datasets are once again available for researchers to use. But the most exciting data to come out today is from Bob Morse, rankings guru for U.S. News and World Report. He has collected graduation rates for Pell Grant recipients, long an unknown for the majority of colleges. Despite the nearly $35 billion per year we spend on the Pell program, we have no idea what the national graduation rate is for Pell recipients. (Richard Vedder, economist of higher education at Ohio University, has mentioned a ballpark estimate of 30%-40% in many public appearances, but he notes that is just a guess.)

Morse notes in his blog post that colleges have been required to collect and disclose graduation rates for Pell recipients since the 2009 renewal of the Higher Education Act. I’ve heard rumors of this for years, but these data have not yet made their way into IPEDS. I have absolutely no problems with him using the data he collects in the proprietary U.S. News rankings, nor do I object to him holding the data very tight—after all, U.S. News did spend time and money collecting it.

However, given that the federal government requires that Pell graduation rates be collected, the Department of Education should collect this data and make it freely and publicly available as soon as possible. This would also be a good place for foundations to step in and help collect this data in the meantime, as it is certainly a potential metric for the President’s proposed college ratings.

Update: An earlier version of this post stated that the Pell graduation data are a part of the Common Data Set. Bob Morse tweeted me to note that they are not a part of that set and are collected by U.S. News. My apologies for the initial error! He also agreed that NCES should collect the data, which only understates the importance of this collection.

Author: Robert

I am an a professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville who studies higher education finance, accountability policies and practices, and student financial aid. All opinions expressed here are my own.

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