Thursday, August 26, 2010

It's Beginning to Look Like Penn State Exists Solely For THON

Today's Collegian has a half-assed story  on Penn State's precipitous drop in the Washington Monthly National University Ranking.  The reporter, Micah Wintner, makes no effort to explain why the University dropped like a rock from 7th to 35th place.  Basically the story is Penn State drops in Washington Monthly ranking....hey, look over there THON....economic impact...wait!... is that Graham playing the washboard?

You would think that explaining the drop would be the obvious angle on this story.   Let's review, this is from my post last year on the ranking.
This brings me to Social Mobility which clearly is what drives Penn State in to the top ten schools on the overall ranking and something ain't right here. Anyone who has spent any time in Happy Valley over the past fifteen years knows that the Main Campus of Penn State is increasingly populated by upper middle class and upper class students. It's gotten so bad that the University Faculty Senate issued a report a couple years ago on Access and Affordability. It did not paint a pretty picture.

Then there is the 2006 report from Education Trust, Engines of Inequality: Diminishing Equality in the Nation's Premier Public Universities, which I blogged about at the time. Penn State received and overall grade of an F and an F on low income access. The Old Main Propaganda Shop wasn't happy.

The grade on low income access was based on the percentage of Pell Grant recipients at the University Park campus in 2004 which stood at 18.0%, according to the report, compared to 33.6the% of all college students in Pennsylvania with Pell Grant that year. The report also noted a trend toward less access at the Main Campus of Penn State. In 1992, the percentage of students with Pell Grants at the flagship campus was 22.2% compared to 27.7% overall in Pennsylvania.

Washington Monthly has the percentage of Pell Grant recipients at Penn State in 2008 as 25%. Has the University dramatically improved low income access to the Main Campus in the last four years? It is highly unlikely.

The Education Department keeps track of this statistic. For 2008, the total number of recipients of Pell Grants at all campuses of Penn State stood at 16,707 or roughly 25% of system-wide enrollment. (You can download the Excel file here.) That percentage is very likely to be lower at University Park and higher at the branch campuses.

Unfortunately, the most recent data on Pell Grant with a campus breakdown from the National Center for Educational Statistics is 2006. It shows substantial inequality amongst the campuses from a high of 63% at the Shenango campus in northwestern Pennsylvania to a low of 14% at the University Park, the flagship campus. However, the percentage of students with Pell Grants at the University Park campus has been very stable around 15% from 1999 through 2006, hence it is likely that the current percentage is significantly lower than the 25% system-wide number used by the Washington Monthly.

You can find a comparison to the other Big Ten schools plus Berkeley for 2006 here.

I think that it is reasonable to concluded that the Washington Monthly over estimated the percentage of Penn State University Park students on Pell Grants...
So this year Washington Monthly got the Pell Grant percent right and Penn State plunged in the ranking.  How hard was that?

Next question, what does that low Pell Grant percentage  tell us about Penn State fulfilling its mission under Graham?'on people....did anyone do the assigned reading?