In an effort to level the playing field for African Americans seeking higher education, the importance of the federal Pell Grant program cannot be overemphasized. This federal grant program for low-income students is the life-blood for hundreds of thousands of African Americans seeking higher education. Without this important program, many black students would not be able to enroll in higher education. Hundreds of thousands of other blacks would have to go deeper into debt or hold down a job while attending college if it were not for the Pell Grant program.
Since 1976 federal Pell Grants, named after Rhode Island Senator Claiborne Pell who championed the cause of making college more affordable, have provided money for tens of millions of low-income students. Pell Grants are awarded to undergraduate college students by the federal government based upon calculations of family size, income, and assets that could be used to finance education as well as projected tuition costs. Close to one half of all African-American undergraduate students receive federal Pell Grant awards.
But enrolling Pell Grant students is one thing. Retaining and graduating them is another. U.S. News and World Report recently published a ranking of the colleges and universities that graduate their Pell Grant students at a higher rate than for their overall student bodies.
At the top of the list is Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. At FAU, 71 percent of the Pell Grant students entering college in 2005 went on to earn their degree within six years. The overall graduation rate for 2005 entering students at FAU was 43 percent.
Earlham College in Indiana, Pitzer College in Claremont, California, and Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, all had a graduation rate that was at least 15 percentage points higher for Pell Grant students than it was for their student body as a whole.
New College in Sarasota, Florida, the University of San Francisco, and Wartburg College in Iowa all had graduation rates for Pell Grant students that were 7 or more percentage points higher than students generally.