Who Are Pell Grant Recipients?

Education Department releases data showing characteristics and persistence of those receiving the aid.

July 22, 2009

WASHINGTON -- Pell Grants are the federal government's largest direct grant to students with low family incomes. So it's no surprise that when Congress and administrations debate priorities for higher ed spending, the Pell Grant always is a hot topic. Does the program have enough money? Should it be an entitlement? Should it be protected from requirements that don't focus on financial need?

A report released Tuesday by the National Center for Education Statistics details what is known about Pell Grant recipients by taking a close look at data from 1999-2000 bachelor's degree recipients, a group in which about 36 percent of people received at least one Pell Grant while in college. Generally, the report found that Pell Grant recipients are more likely than others to have "risk" characteristics (such as delaying postsecondary enrollment after high school graduation) that suggest statistically greater chances of dropping out of college.

At the same time, the report found that when controlling for these and other factors (such as parents' educational levels), Pell Grant recipients graduate in shorter time frames than others.

Here are demographics of Pell Grant recipients, showing them to be older on average, more likely to be female and first-generation college students and less likely to be white than those who don't receive the grants.

Demographics of Pell Grant Recipients and All Students, 1999-2000 College Graduates

Characteristic Pell Grant Recipients Non-Recipients
--Female 60.0% 55.9%
--Male 40.0% 44.2%
Age at Graduation    
--22 or younger 23.1% 38.7%
--23-24 31.2% 33.9%
--25-29 26.9% 10.1%
--30 and older 18.8% 17.3%
Parent's highest level of education    
--High school or less 41.1% 21.1%
--Some postsecondary 22.9% 18.0%
--Bachelor's degree or higher 36.0% 61.0%
--White 63.3% 79.7%
--Black 11.8% 5.8%
--Hispanic 13.2% 5.9%
--Asian 6.8% 5.2%
--Pacific Islander 1.0% 0.5%
--American Indian 0.9% 0.4%
--More than one race 2.9% 2.7%

In terms of specific risk factors that make it less likely a student will complete college, several are evident among Pell Grant recipients. More than 11 percent of them are single parents, compared to 4 percent of non-Pell recipients. Just under 60 percent are financially independent of their parents, compared to about one-third of other students. And more than 33 percent delayed enrolling in college after finishing high school, compared to 23 percent of other students.

Despite those risk factors, academic achievement, as measured by grades in the major, was only slightly lower for Pell Grant recipients.

Undergraduate Major Grade-Point Average, Pell and Non-Pell Recipients, 1999-2000 Graduates

  Pell Recipients Non-Recipients
2.5 or lower 9.4% 7.5%
2.6 to 3.0 24.6% 22.4%
3.1 to 3.4 19.8% 19.6%
3.5 or higher 46.2% 50.6%



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