Worse Than Pell!

We have seen that larger percentages of Pell grants are associated with lower graduation rates in Virginia’s four-year institutions. 

SCHEV has some more granular data:  Here, to sample that pool, are the 4-, 5-, and 6-year completion rates for the 2010-11, first-time-in-college cohort in Virginia’s 4-year programs.  The data count degrees completed at any institution.


Let’s look at each of those groups (and its six-year rate):

  • Military survivor/dependent awards: 86.9%.   Tuition and fees waived at Virginia public institutions for survivors and dependents of certain military service members.
  • Perkins Grants: 86.3%.  Federal program for students enrolled in Career & Technical Education programs. 
  • PLUS Loans: 83.2%.  Loans from US Education Dept. toward cost of attendance, minus other financial aid.
  • Athletic awards: 83.1%.  (Go figure!)
  • Stafford Loans: 82.9% unsubsidized; 81.5% subsidized.  This is the federal student load program.  Subsidized loans, available to students with demonstrated financial need; the feds pay the interest while the student is in school.  Borrowers are responsible for all the interest on unsubsidized loans.
  • Work-Study: 81.4%.  Program for federal + institutional support to provide part time employment for needy students.
  • VGAP award: 81.4%.  Virginia Guaranteed Assistance Program for Virginia residents, administered by SCHEV.
  • Tuition Waiver: 77.9%.  Mostly institutional programs for faculty and employees.  E.g., VCU (note: my browser complains of a bad site certificate here), UVa.  But see mature (they say “older”) citizens.
  • No financial aid: 77.6%.
  • Pell grants: 69.1%. 
  • Commonwealth Award: 65.0%.  State funds for undergraduates with financial need; appropriated directly to state-supported institutions.

There are several surprises here.  One that jumps out is that Commonwealth Awards are subsidizing failure at a rate even higher than the Pell grants.

The military awards are not a surprise.  In my experience, at least, veterans are different from, and much more serious than, most other students.  Doubtless veterans’ spouses and dependents partake of that difference. 

In Virginia’s 4-year programs, both scholarship athletes and students with federal loans graduate at higher rates than students with no financial aid. 

The SCHEV-administered VGAP graduation rate shines in comparison to the Pell and the school-administered Commonwealth Award rates.  Perhaps it’s time to reallocate that Commonwealth Awards money.

And the major takeaway:  Perkins!  We need more plumbers, electricians, network admins, and auto mechanics and this program looks to be effective in getting them educated.  Indeed, the 4-year rate is exceptional.  These data suggest some places where it might be wise to reallocate funds to Perkins grants.