Let’s Track First-Generation Students’ Outcomes

I’ve recently written about the need to report the outcomes of students based on whether they received a Pell Grant during their first year of college. Given that annual spending on the Pell Grant is about $35 billion, this should be a no-brainer—especially since colleges are already required to collect the data under the Higher Education Opportunity Act. Household income is a strong predictor of educational attainment, so people interested in social mobility should support publishing Pell graduation rates. I’m grateful to get support from Ben Miller of the New America Foundation on this point.

Yet, there has not been a corresponding call to collect information based on parental education, even though there are federal programs targeted to supporting first-generation students. The federal government already collects parental education on the FAFSA, although the choice of “college or beyond” may be unclear. (It would be simple enough to clarify the question if desired.)

My proposal here is simple: track graduation rates by parental education. It can be easily done through the current version of IPEDS, although the usual caveats about IPEDS’s focus on first-time, full-time students still applies. This could be another useful data point for students and their families, as well as policymakers and potentially President Obama’s proposed college ratings. Collecting these data shouldn’t be an enormous burden on institutions, particularly in relationship to their Title IV funds received.

Let’s continue to work to improve IPEDS by collecting more useful data, and this should be a part of the conversation.

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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