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Friday, May 14, 2021

Pell Grant students see gap in graduation rates

Graphic by Janae Easlon // Compiled by Sara Helms
Graphic by Janae Easlon // Compiled by Sara Helmsl

No Washington universities, including Western, made the list of schools providing exemplary access, opportunity and success for low-income students, according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Education.

At Western, this trend is best observed when comparing the graduation rates of students receiving financial aid versus those who do not. Western students receiving Pell Grants graduate at a rate 7.2 percent lower than their peers, according to a 2015 report from the university’s Office of Institutional Research.

Pell grants are federal grants given to students that demonstrate financial need through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Last year, approximately 21 percent of Western’s incoming freshmen were Pell Grant recipients.

Joan Ullin is the assistant director of Multicultural Support Programs and Retention at Western’s Student Outreach Services. Her department serves first-generation students who may be Pell Grant eligible. There are a variety of factors that could be affecting graduation rates of students, Ullin said.

“When you’re coming in with different identities, that could mean different challenges,” Ullin said. “One of them might be financial aid challenges, but that’s not the only thing.”

Graduation rates of students receiving Pell Grants are 5.7 percent lower than those of students not receiving the federal aid, according to a nationwide study released in 2015 by The Education Trust, a nonprofit organization that analyzes national data on students.

At Western, 72.3 percent of non-Pell students entering as freshmen in fall of 2009 graduated within six years. In comparison, 65.1 percent of students receiving Pell Grants graduated in six years.

Ullin said the reason behind this gap in graduation rates is caused by the transition for students who may be the first in their family to attend college or the strong cultural and family ties students leave behind when going to college.

Senior Kenny Torre works as a front desk staff at Student Outreach Services. Torre speculates students are not aware of the abundant resources available to them, which are funded in large by the student services and activity fee paid by each student every quarter.

First generation and Pell Grant eligible students are contacted through email during Summer Start and notified of the different programs and services offered at Student Outreach Services. However, Torre and his colleagues say they would like to see the services Western offers marketed toward students.

Emmanuel Camarillo, an academic support coordinator at Student Outreach Services, teaches the course “Purposeful Learning” (EDUC-108), a class designed for first-year students. The course covers time management, study skills and career options. This course is an extension of the advising done in the Student Outreach Services office.

Camarillo estimates approximately 80 students took the “Purposeful Learning” course during the 2015-2016 academic year. According to the Office of Institutional Research, that accounts for about 13 percent of the Pell Grant recipients enrolled in fall of 2015.

Torre is also a peer mentor for the Student Outreach Services’ Mentor Project, a program designed to help, advise and provide resources for Pell-eligible, minority and first-year students.

As a peer mentor, Torre works with incoming freshmen as an adviser and a liaison to the different resources on campus.

“[We] make sure these freshmen are really transitioning well into their first year of college at the university,” he said.

Senior Le’Ana Freeman, also a front desk staff and peer mentor at Student Outreach Services, said the mentorship offered at the office has been helpful to Freeman for her four years at Western.

“There’s a lot of really wonderful services here,” Freeman said. “We would like to see more students coming in and using the services.”

But as Ullin explained, ensuring students succeed is a whole-house effort.

“We are not the only office serving first-gen or Pell Grant eligible [students]. The entire university is serving the populations we serve,” Ullin said. “We’re all helping our students walk a pathway toward success and whatever they came here [to become], to be great at it.”


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