Posted on May 2, 2018

The University of California Stands Out Among Top Schools When It Comes to Serving Poor Students

Adam Harris, Atlantic, May 1, 2018


{snip} One of the most common ways to understand how colleges are serving low-income students is by looking at how well they are helping students who are eligible to receive Pell Grants, or need-based federal grants for low-income students. Three-quarters of Pell Grant recipients come from families that make less than $40,000 a year.

The report finds that fewer than half of first-time, full-time Pell students (meaning students who are attending college for the first time, not transfer or return students, who are a slightly different population) graduate at the institution they started at within six years. By contrast, those who do not receive a Pell Grant are doing much better, and nationally are 18 percent more likely to graduate within that time period. {snip}

But the report found that one system stands out: Schools in the University of California system are doing significantly better than other four-year colleges and universities in the country when it comes to enrolling low-income students and seeing them across the finish line. Of the public and private nonprofit schools with a higher-than-average Pell-awardee enrollment rate (the schools this study examined), the UCs occupy five of the top 10 slots in terms of graduating students. Among only public institutions, they are the top seven.


Why is that? The state money available for higher education makes a big difference — and the UCs have remained among the better-funded colleges in the country, as institutions in other states have seen sharp cuts. They devote a good portion of that funding to getting low-income students onto campus in the first place. In recent years, colleges have placed increased emphasis on outreach to low-income communities to diversify the socioeconomic makeup of their student body, including sending recruiters to schools they haven’t traditionally frequented and helping with college counseling.

The UCs do those things, and a bit more. For starters, they provide academic preparation for high-school students at underserved schools to ensure that they meet the requirements to attend the colleges, and hold academic-enrichment programs in the summer. When students are seniors, the UCs help them with their applications and financial aid. {snip}

Representatives from the UCs also go to local high schools and churches to demystify college, which can be an important step. Applying for college can be daunting, especially if one is not from a wealthy family — the sticker price alone is enough to dissuade many students from applying — or if one is the first in the family to attempt to get a postsecondary education. {snip}

{snip} According to the Third Way report, the University of California at Los Angeles has an 88 percent Pell-student graduation rate; the University of California at San Diego is at 85 percent, as is the University of California at Irvine. Those numbers are roughly on par with the graduation rates for non-Pell recipients.


Though the UCs are making a concerted effort to enroll and retain low-income students, it is also worth noting that the schools’ efforts are buoyed by a healthy state economy. A recent paper found that labor markets are also a contributing factor in mobility.