As college students nationwide prepare for graduation, a new analysis has shown that just under half of all those who receive Pell Grants – the federal government's main form of direct financial aid for low-income students – finish their four-year degree programs on time.
The federal government considers "on time" being six years for a four-year degree. The maximum federal Pell Grant program award for the current school year is US$5,920. Next school year, the award will rise to $6,095.
So, why are so many low-income college students not completing their degrees within this time frame? The question is an important one because last year the federal government spent $26.9 billion dollars on Pell Grants. It's also important because Pell Grant recipients can expect to earn substantially higher salaries if they complete their degrees.
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Speaking as a researcher who focuses on issues of performance at public institutions, the available data suggest the reason Pell Grant recipients have lower graduation rates is related to both the nature of the colleges these students attend, as well as the personal barriers these students face.
Compared to other college students, those receiving Pell Grants are more likely to belong to a racial minority, to have parents who never went to college, and to be parents themselves.