A Hechinger Report analysis of Pell grant graduation rate data from a cross section of colleges and universities — which is not otherwise publicly reported anywhere — suggests that billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded Pell grants nationwide go to students who never earn degrees.
And while some schools with large numbers of Pell recipients have strong graduation rates for those students, the ones receiving the biggest share of the money often do not.
The government itself does not collect this data, meaning that, since 2000, taxpayers have spent $300 billion on Pell grants — the nation’s single most expensive education program, awarded based on family earnings to help low-income students get access to higher educations — with no way of knowing how many of the recipients ever actually earned degrees.
In a quirk of federal policy, individual institutions do have to disclose the graduation rates of their students who receive Pell grants, when asked. And while some resisted doing so, or released them only in response to public-record requests, the Hechinger analysis of 32 of the largest private and 50 of the largest public universities — and tens of thousands of Pell grant students — shows that more than a third of Pell recipients at those schools hadn’t earned degrees even after six years. <Read more.>