Study by UW–Madison’s Hillman finds less selective universities do most to educate poorer students


Less selective universities do the most to educate the poorest students in the U.S., according to a new study from UW–Madison’s Nick Hillman that was spotlighted in University World News.

nick hillman
Hillman

The completion rate for students who receive federally funded Pell Grants is higher for those who attend the nation’s most selective universities than it is for those at moderately selective or broad access universities, notes the report. However, institutions in the most selective category enroll only 7 percent of Pell-eligible students who are attending public or nonprofit four-year universities.

“There’s definitely a social hierarchy that we’ve created in this country, with the most selective universities, places like Harvard, Stanford, or the University of Chicago, at the top,” says Hillman, a professor in the School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis and author of the study entitled, “Pell Access and Completion Series, Part II: Public and Non-Profit Four-Year Universities,” that was published by the Institute for College Access and Success in July.

“And for the few Pell-eligible students who go to one of these schools, most graduates are launched into their careers. But these schools do not enroll anywhere near the numbers that attend lesser-known schools,” he adds.

Pell recipients in highly selective schools graduate at a rate of 80 percent, which Hillman says is not a surprise, “first, because of the way these schools select students… and, secondly, because these schools have the financial resources to provide academic support that students who have not had the advantages of growing up in a wealthy home might require.”

While he says the 60 percent graduation rate among other classes of institutions could be higher, those rates have been rising about 1 percent per year.

In addition, he adds, “given that these schools enroll the vast majority of Pell-eligible students, what we are looking at is a success story. They are the workhorses that educate the nation’s poorest and launch them into their careers. Their achievement is all the more notable, given that these universities often do not have the resources available to provide academic support.”

University World News notes that Hillman’s analysis suggests that rankings may be irrelevant to judging the effectiveness of universities.

“We should be less interested in the U.S. News and World Report rankings that focus on A/B/C and more focused on measuring how universities contribute to social mobility,” Hillman says. “When you do that, this research suggests, you get a whole different list of top schools.”

“What we see is that not only are these schools enrolling a much larger share of Pell Grant students, but their completion rate is pretty darn good. And they are deserving of much greater support from the government.”

Hillman is also the author of Part I of the three-part TICAS study, focusing on Pell-eligible students at community colleges, and is the director of UW–Madison’s Student Success Through Applied Research (SSTAR) Lab. Part III of the study has yet to be released.

Check out the full report from University World News.

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