Augustana College is a good investment for low-income students, according to The Colleges Where Low-Income Students Get the Highest ROI, a new report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
Augustana placed among the top 7% of 3,380 schools in the country for providing a high return on a college investment (ROI) to Pell Grant-eligible students.
The study took into account a school’s percentage of Pell Grant students, as well as the graduation rates and percentile rank of long-term earnings of these students. According to the study, 24% of students at Augustana are Pell Grant recipients — with a graduation rate of 71%. This compares with a 54.6% national graduation rate for Pell Grant students in four-year private, nonprofit colleges.
Augustana’s strong showing in part reflects an emphasis on student-specific advising and services support programs and an intentional increase in need-based financial aid, administrators say.
“The times where I see Augustana at its absolute best is when we’re working with a student … sometimes even working with a student and their family, and remind the student that the end goal is we want you to have a degree,” said Dr. Kristin Douglas, associate dean of student success and persistence. “We know how life-altering that degree is going to be. So here’s a plan for how we can support you as you earn that degree.
“Just to see how much that means to a student, knowing that someone is willing to go out of their way for them … and when we see their name on the graduation list, that is why we do what we do. I love those moments where you can tell it’s the work that we have done, the programs that we have put in place that have made a difference.”
Individualized support services
Augustana’s continuing efforts to provide advising programs and support services that focus on the individual are key to successful student outcomes. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of scenario,” Dr. Douglas said.
As soon as a new student arrives, they are assigned an advisor and enrolled in a course taught by that advisor. The course helps guide the student in shaping their own successful Augustana experience, and the advisor gets to know the student. When challenges arise, the student is more likely to feel comfortable sharing what’s going on.
“Then as an institution, we can step in and provide the supports and resources that will be most helpful,” Dr. Douglas said. “This is something we have put in place over the last four, five years, and I think we have seen students benefit greatly from building that relationship with their advisor very, very early."
TRIO-SSS is a more recent addition to Augustana’s lineup of support services. Funded by a $1.3 million grant from the Department of Education, the five-year program provides an extra level of services to income-eligible, first-generation and/or students with disabilities.
“We see the TRIO-SSS program as another way we can help improve the upward mobility of students,” said President Steve Bahls. “We are committed to helping all Augie students and providing pathways toward high-demand careers.”
Increased financial aid
In the past five years, Augustana has increased its need-based financial aid by 15%, which is higher than peer schools, according to John Cage, Augustana’s director of financial aid.
“Institutional financial aid is decreasing at most schools,” said Cage, who has worked in both the public and private sector of higher education. “Augustana is definitely an outlier in the investment that we’ve made in our students, in particular our need-based students.”
Cage said he believes “the greatest way to effect generational change is by achieving a college education. One of Augustana’s core values is offering an affordable education to all students. The increase in need-based financial aid in the past five years is just one way that we reflect that value.”
The Georgetown University report signals a trend in college rankings to recognize the importance of social mobility in assessing colleges and universities. U.S. News & World Report recently added a measure for social mobility.