President's Blog

Evenly distributed opportunity

With Kirk Heffelmire

We like to think about universities as the great equalizers of our society, the institutions that give everyone a shot at a good life. And there’s good reason for it.  No matter what income or ethnic group you come from, your chances of finding a good job and earning a good living are significantly improved if you graduate from college.  Unfortunately though, the odds that you actually graduate from college in a timely manner are still affected by where you came from.

According to a study by the Education Trust, there are persistent gaps in graduation rates among groups of students across the country. Graduation rates for all groups of students have been improving across the country over the past 10 years, but the gaps among groups persist.

This national trend highlights how remarkable it is that, at Mason, graduation rate gaps for underrepresented minorities and low-income students have been either minimal or nonexistent.

Mason’s 6-year graduation rate for African American students has averaged only 1 percentage point lower than for students overall across the past three years, compared to an average national gap of 17 percentage points in public 4-year institutions.  The gap for low-income students in terms of 6-year graduation rates is 5.7 percentage points nationwide but nonexistent at Mason–in fact, students receiving Pell Grants at Mason have graduated at a higher rate than students overall in two of the most recent three years of data.

Out of the 452 large public institutions included in data used in the report, Mason ranks in the top 10 percent for having a minimal gaps over the most recent three years of available data.   And it’s comforting to see Mason highlighted as one of the 36 standout institutions in the country for serving low-income students (see Table 1 on Page 10 of this report).

Over the last 15 years, Mason stands out among its Virginia peers with no gap between students receiving Pell Grants and students overall. Mason students receiving Pell Grants have had a 6-year graduation rate an average of 1 percentage point higher than students overall during this period. Across all public 4-year institutions in Virginia, students receiving Pell Grants graduate at a rate 15 percentage points lower than students overall. Among the four Virginia institutions rated as Highest Research Universities by the Carnegie Classification, Mason is the only school without a graduation rate gap between students receiving Pell Grants and students overall.

We still have work to do to further deliver on our commitment to access.  Our net tuition for Pell Grant students is still relatively high, even though our relatively high graduation rates and employment success of our graduates help make our three year student loan default rates among the lowest in the country.

Given what’s at stake, we shouldn’t be too complacent. But we should nevertheless pride ourselves on our success delivering opportunity across one of the most diverse student bodies in the country.  Congratulations, Mason Nation!