Illustration: Michael Austin

Formula For Success 

Boston College's Pell Grant students graduate at an impressive rate.

Boston College’s climb in the rankings wasn’t the only good news in the most recent U.S. News & World Report survey of colleges and universities. BC not only moved up two spots, to number 35, in the magazine’s annual review, but it also registered the nation’s third-best graduation rate for students who receive Pell Grants.

Federal Pell Grants are awarded to undergraduates who display extreme financial need. At BC, Pell recipients account for about 14 percent of the student population, and they produced a 96 percent graduation rate during the most recent academic year. Only CalTech and Princeton did better. The graduation rate for Pell recipients at BC even eclipsed the University’s sparkling overall graduation rate of 94 percent.

“This achievement represents Boston College at its best,” said John Mahoney, BC’s vice provost for enrollment management. Mahoney said the success of the University’s Pell Grant recipients is further evidence of its commitment to enrolling and supporting first-generation, low-income students.

Mahoney explained that BC’s work to support Pell recipients begins with the partnerships that the University’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions forms with community-based organizations, known as CBOs, from around the country. “The CBOs encourage students to take rigorous courses that help prepare them for college-level work,” he said. “They are invaluable in connecting our admission staff with students who are a good fit for BC.”

From there, Undergraduate Admissions and the Office of Financial Aid work together to offer low-income students the financial assistance they require to enroll at BC, which is one of just twenty private universities in the country that practice need-blind admission. “It’s an extraordinary commitment for an institution to make,” Mahoney said, “and it underscores BC’s belief in the importance of a socioeconomically diverse student body.”

“We’re especially pleased to see our Pell students flourish,” said Mary McGranahan, director of financial aid. “We strive to provide the resources and support they need to be successful.”

Once Pell and other first-generation students are on campus, BC helps them succeed via programs such as Options Through Education, Learning to Learn, the Montserrat Office, BC F1RST, and the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center. BC also recently announced the launch of, and a $50 million endowment for, the Pine Manor Institute for Student Success, which will coordinate the efforts of many of the above-mentioned programs. And to continue to help make a college education available to students from historically underrepresented communities, BC last year was invited to join QuestBridge, a nonprofit program that helps high-achieving, low-income students gain admission and scholarships to top-ranked institutions. 

No surprise, then, that The Chronicle of Higher Education included BC on its list of the thirty private schools that are the most generous to financially challenged students. “When there is commitment to aggressive recruitment, comprehensive yield programming, generous financial aid, and consistent focus on retention,” Mahoney said, “success follows.” 


Here are the schools with the best graduation rates for Pell Grant recipients in U.S. News & World Report’s 2021 survey:

1. California Institute of Technology: 100%

2. Princeton University: 98%

3. Boston College: 96%

4. Harvard University, Yale University, Washington University in St. Louis, and Tufts University (four-way tie): 95%

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