The Pell Grant Proxy: A Ubiquitous But Flawed Measure of Low Income Student Enrollment
enrolled student demographics, law school diversity, socioeconomic status
Policymakers and the media use the Pell Grant program to measure the share of low-income students enrolled at specific colleges and universities, but the reliability of this measure is rarely scrutinized. This paper discusses several key limitations of the “Pell proxy” that could affect its reliability, especially when used to draw conclusions about admissions and recruiting practices at particular universities or categories of schools. Generally, the proxy undercounts low-income students enrolled in institutions of higher education while counting middle-income students as low-income. Using the Pell proxy to compare trends is even more problematic because Pell Grant take-up rates and eligibility rules have changed markedly over time. These trends may have affected the makeup of Pell Grant students differently by institution, reducing the reliability of the Pell proxy further.