What Colleges Can Do to Help Low-Income Students

In the fall of 2008, a team of researchers began studying some 3,000 Pell Grant recipients who had enrolled in Wisconsin’s 42 public colleges and universities for the first time that year. At age 18, they were ambitious, committed (all began full time), and entirely unaware that, six years later, fewer than half of them would complete a degree of any kind.

What they also did not know (yet) was that the research team, which I led, would follow them on their college journeys. In an effort to better understand why some students from low-income families, for whom the grants are intended, finish college and others do not, we took an uncommonly deep dive by surveying them from the start, examining their financial aid and academic records semester after semester, and talking with 50 of them in person year after year.

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