GVSU leads nation in low-income student enrollment

Students work in groups at the Mary Idema Pew Library on Nov. 3 in Allendale, MI.

Kasey Garvelink

Students work in groups at the Mary Idema Pew Library on Nov. 3 in Allendale, MI.

Drew Howard

Grand Valley State University was recently recognized as one of just ten colleges and universities in the nation that enrolls a high number of low-income students while also maintaining strong academic performance among its campus community.

Released by the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), the report highlights the number of Pell Grant-receiving students who were enrolled at each university or college, in addition to analyzing the academic standards of each institution.

The federal Pell Grant program was created to improve the access to post-secondary education for low-income students. Undergraduate and some post-baccalaureate students can be awarded money from the Pell Grant based on their family’s income, the cost of attending a university or college, their status as a full-time or part-time student, as well as their plans to attend for a full academic year or less.

According to the report, 34.7 percent of students enrolled at GVSU were Pell Grant-receiving students.

Additionally, GVSU accounts for nearly half – 48.4 percent – of all Pell Grant-receiving students enrolled in the 108 colleges and universities within Michigan.

Lynn Blue, vice president for Enrollment Development, said GVSU was also recognized by the IHEP for its high graduation rate and low cohort loan default rate.

“The importance of the low cohort default rate has to do with our institutional rate of alums who fail to pay back education loans,” Blue said. “A high rate is generally attributed to populations that are not degree completers or those who are unemployed or underemployed. Conversely, low default rates on federal educational loans are attributed to students who graduate and find employment in good paying positions.”

In terms of improvement, the IHEP reports shows that GVSU has increased its Pell Grant enrollment rate by 14 percent over the past five years.

“GVSU enrolls Pell students over its predicted rate, but has also experienced an increase in Pell enrollments over the last five years that exceed the national average,” Blue said. “We show improvement each year in the areas cited, and that is important to remember as there’s always room for improvement.”

By enrolling a large number of low-income students, GVSU is fighting against a number of statistics that are in favor of high-income students.

For the example, the report shows that only about half of low-income high school students end up enrolling in college. The ones who do tend to be “concentrated in less selective colleges with fewer resources and lower graduation rates.”

Blue noted that a large percentage of low-income students who do end up enrolling in college will not end up at a four-year institution.

“Seventy-five percent of non-Pell students attend four-year institutions, while only 55 percent of Pell eligible students pick four-year colleges; rather, they are more likely to attend a two-year college or a proprietary college,” she said. “The last numbers that I have seen, Grand Rapids Community College reported 52 percent of their students were Pell-eligible.”

Jesse Bernal, vice president for Inclusion and Equity at GVSU, said enrolling low-income students continues GVSU’s effort toward diversifying the campus.

“I applaud the work of colleagues in the Enrollment Development division as well as the commitment by our president and leadership team to maintain a commitment to low-income students and families in the face of state funding challenges,” Bernal said. “It truly embodies our prioritization of advancing equity and inclusion.”