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W&M enrolls record number of new students receiving Pell grants

William & Mary enrolled a record number of new students receiving federal Pell grants this fall, the university announced this week. 

According to the latest data from the financial aid office, 197 freshmen received the grants this year, a 18.6% increase from last year’s class, which included 166 Pell freshmen. Additionally, 69 new transfer students received the grants, a 130% increase from last year when W&M enrolled 30 transfer students with Pell grants. In total, the university saw a 36% increase in Pell freshmen and new transfer students this year from last.

Although Pell numbers alone do not provide a comprehensive picture, the need-based grants can be used to indicate the socio-economic diversity of a group of college students. According to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), the vast majority of Pell grant recipients come from family income levels of $40,000 or less.

The university has been striving in recent years to increase the diversity of incoming classes, including their socio-economic diversity. This year’s increase can be attributed to several factors, said Associate Vice President for Enrollment and Dean of Admission Tim Wolfe.

“As a starting point, the university continues to make significant investments in expanding need-based financial aid for in-state students,” said Wolfe. “Additionally, the undergraduate admission office worked hard to expand recruitment efforts and to reduce barriers in the application process through new initiatives such as the expansion of application fee waivers for any first-generation or Pell-eligible students and the implementation of a test-optional application process.”

Another way the university has sought to increase socio-economic diversity is through a new partnership with the Posse Foundation. Under the terms of that partnership, William & Mary provides scholarships to diverse cohorts of students, including first-generation college students or students who may otherwise not be able to attend W&M due to financial barriers. The first cohort of 11 Posse Scholars started at W&M this fall. Additionally, first-generation students made up 11% of this year’s freshman class overall.

Undergraduate Admission has also been working closely with high school counselors and families to present available financial aid opportunities and assist with the application process. Because W&M is a public institution, it faces some challenges in what financial aid is available for out-of-state students. But for in-state families with incomes of $110,000 or less, W&M has the lowest personal net price average among Virginia’s public universities. Personal net price is the amount a family pays or borrows after receiving scholarships and grants.

Since 2016, W&M has seen a 17.5% increase in students from Virginia who receive Pell grants. Among all in-state undergraduates, W&M currently has 17.1% who receive Pell grants. While W&M’s in-state Pell numbers are comparable to overall rates at national peer institutions, the university will continue working toward increasing them.

“While this year’s entering class represents progress on increasing socio-economic diversity on campus, this remains an area of priority for the university,” said Wolfe. “We realize there is much more work to do, and we are committed to doing it.”

While W&M looks to increase the socio-economic diversity of incoming students, the university is also committed to supporting the success of students from lower-income backgrounds while they are on campus.

In an August 2021 report from the Chronicle of Higher Education, William & Mary was ranked as having the second-highest six-year graduation rate for Pell students among the nation’s four-year public institutions. According to the report, 91.6% of the university’s Pell students who enrolled in 2013 – a cohort of 143 – graduated within six years. That rate topped the overall graduation rate for the full class that enrolled in 2013, at 90.1%.

"William & Mary is committed not only to expanding affordability for in-state students, but also to ensuring their success here," said Vice President for Strategic Initiatives & Public Affairs Henry Broaddus. “Low net price for in-state families, higher numbers of Pell students, and very high graduation rates all reflect that commitment, and we remain focused on finding more ways to improve."