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Wingate’s return on investment among best in N.C.
by Luanne Williams

College doesn’t pay off as much for low-income students as it does for their peers – that’s the bad news from a report issued earlier this year by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. The good news is that, when it comes to return on investment (ROI) at universities with high percentages of Federal Pell Grant recipients, Wingate University leads the state and ranks third in the Southeast.

“Our outcomes are the best in North Carolina among public and private universities that have Pell percentages higher than 25 percent,” Wingate University President Rhett Brown says. “Even when you don’t factor in the Pell Grant percentage, we rank fifth overall in the Tar Heel state, behind Duke, Wake, UNC and N.C. State. In the Southeast, among high-Pell universities, only Augusta and Xavier have higher rankings.”

Overall, Georgetown researchers found that the net economic gains for low-income students (those whose families make less than $30,000 a year) in the 40 years after college enrollment ($756,000) are lower than those for all students ($822,000). To find out which colleges are good values for low-income students, they created an index in which additional weight is given to the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants, their graduation rates, and their long-term ROI.

Some 41 percent of Wingate students receive Pell Grants. The University’s 40-year net present value (NPV), which is used to determine the ROI, was estimated at $1,295,000. (NPV is a measure of how much a sum of money in the future is valued today. It includes costs, future earnings and other factors.)

Although Wingate – a nonprofit, private university that predominantly grants bachelor’s degrees – is leading the charge to improve ROI for Pell Grant students in North Carolina, the report showed that, overall, low-income students get their best return on investment at public bachelor-degree institutions, since tuition at such institutions is often lower than that of privates. Even so, Georgetown researchers say low-income students can find good returns across institutions. They simply have to find the school that’s the right fit for them and one that’s accessible.

“Many of the colleges with the highest ROI for low-income students enroll relatively small shares of Pell Grant recipients,” CEW Director and lead author Anthony P. Carnevale said in a press release. “ROI is important, but students won’t get that ROI if they can’t go to these colleges.” 

Dr. Brown echoed Carnevale’s assertion, pointing out why Wingate’s commitment to affordability and inclusivity is so important. 

“Our efforts to meet students where they are – often the first in their families to pursue a bachelor’s degree – and offer both a safety net and a launch pad to make a difference in their futures are more important than ever,” he says, “especially here in the shadow of Charlotte.”

A 2014 Harvard University study ranked the Queen City last for economic mobility among the 50 largest U.S. metro areas.