The 1992 General Assembly established the Virginia Guaranteed Assistance Program (VGAP) in Section 23-38.53:4 of the Code of Virginia. The purpose of VGAP was to decrease the drop-out rate of students in grades six through twelve, increase the graduation rates of financially needy students, and provide financial assistance to eligible students for the cost of attending a public two- or four-year higher education institution in the Commonwealth. The law also required that all awards be proportional to need so that students with the greatest need receive the largest awards. In 1994, through Chapter 789, VGAP was amended in part so that it would no longer serve to decrease the drop-out rate of students in grades six through twelve, or to increase the graduation rates of financially needy students. It continues to provide financial assistance to eligible students to attend a public institution of higher education in Virginia.
Under the same section of the code establishing VGAP, the State Council of Higher Education (SCHEV) was charged with administering and promulgating regulations for the program. To be eligible for the VGAP award, students must be an undergraduate student enrolled full-time in an approved degree-seeking program at a Virginia public college or university; demonstrate financial need as determined by the institution; be a citizen, or eligible non-citizen; be domiciled in Virginia; be classified as a dependent student for federal financial aid purposes; and meet other merit-based criteria. For more details about VGAP eligibility, see SCHEV’s VGAP Fact Sheet.
In this article, we look at first-time in college (FTIC), full-time students who received a VGAP award when they first enrolled (VGAP recipients) at public four-year institutions from 2007-08 to 2012-13. We focus on VGAP recipients at the public four-years because VGAP is predominately given to FTIC, full-time, in-state students at public four-year institutions, with more than 90% of VGAP recipients at these institutions over the last three years. We examine their demographics, other indicators of their financial need, their academic effort (credits earned) and progression and completion rates at the four-year institutions.
About 23% of all FTIC, full-time, in-state students received a VGAP award at entry in the last six years. The total number of VGAP recipients has increased by 735 students, or by 14% during the same time period.
In looking at the demographics, we see that during the last six years a larger proportion of VGAP recipients have been women. In 2007-08, the proportion of women was at 63%. Most recently that proportion has decreased to 58% of VGAP recipients being women and 42% men. While this current gap in percentage between men and women recipients is sizable, it is worth putting this into perspective with the total population of FTIC, full-time, in-state students at public four-year institutions. Women have consistently made up 55% of this population during the same years. When we look at total growth by gender during the same six year period, the number of male recipients of this award has grown by 29% (540 students) compared to the number of women which increased by only 6% (195 students).
We review race/ethnicity into two categories - majority students and students of color. In 2012-13, 52% of the recipients were majority students compared to 48% students of color. This is down from 58% majority students in 2007-08. In looking at total growth by race categories, the number of majority student VGAP recipients show only a modest increase of 3% (an increase of 79 students) from 2007-08 to 2012-13, while the number of VGAP recipients that are students of color grew at a much higher rate - 31% (an increase of 656 students) during the same time period.
We present the family income of VGAP recipients divided into lower, middle and upper income categories (income categories are determined by the poverty level - 1 to 200%, 201 to 400% and 401% and above). From 2007-08 to 2012-13, the percentage of VGAP recipients whose family income was within the low income range increased 12 percentage points, while the percentage within the middle income category decreased by 10 percentage points. In the last six years, the number of VGAP recipients whose family income fell within the low income category increased by 1,024 students and in the middle and upper income categories the number of VGAP recipients decreased by 227 and 62 students, respectively.
We also look at other types of need-based financial aid awarded to VGAP recipients at entry, such as Federal Pell Grant Program awards. This federally-funded grant was established in 1972 as the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant Program in the reauthorized Title IV of the Higher Education Act and was later renamed in 1980. Most undergraduate students meeting the program’s need requirement – as reflected by the student’s expected family contribution (EFC) that is determined by a federally-mandated needs analysis formula – are eligible for an award. Pell grant recipients are generally considered to be the neediest students.
While the Pell grant is awarded based on EFC, VGAP is awarded based on remaining need. Current Virginia law defines the remaining need formula as the student’s cost of attendance (as determined by the student’s institution) minus the student’s EFC minus the Pell grant, if any, and other need-based gift aid known at the time of awarding. Providing the resulting amount falls into the required remaining need range, as determined by the institution, the student may be eligible to receive a VGAP award.
Each year from 2010-11 through 2012-13, approximately two-thirds of VGAP recipients received a Pell award at entry. In 2012-13, 66% of all VGAP recipients received a Pell award, an increase of 13 percentage points from 2007-08. During the same time period, the total number of VGAP recipients awarded Pell grew by 1,127 students or 42%. What we see in these trends is interesting – it would appear that a greater percentage of VGAP recipients are needier now than six years ago, as indicated by the percentage of VGAP students who are also Pell recipients and the percentage of VGAP recipients whose family income falls into the lower income range. This may be attributed to several factors including economic downturn and increased enrollment. Most likely, it indicates the ongoing decline in “purchasing power” of Pell grants. To determine the specific Pell/VGAP correlation, other analysis – outside the scope of this review – would need to be performed (such as effect of increases in program funding, changes in the percentage of Virginia students applying for financial aid, changes in student enrollment behavior, differences in institutional award schedules from year to year, and other like factors).
In looking at academic effort of VGAP recipients, we examine the number of credits they earned with a “C” or better within the first year of their enrollment. Between years 2007-08 and 2009-10, the percentage of VGAP recipients who earned 24 credits or more in the first-year of enrollment fluctuated from 61% in 2007-08, down to 56% in 2008-09, and up eight percentage points to 64% in 2009-10. Since 2009-10, the percentage has remained more constant, close to 66%. In 2012-13, around two-thirds of VGAP recipients earned 24 or more credits, 25% between 12 and 23 credits, 5% between 6 and 11 credits and the remainder less the 6, or no credits earned within their first-year of enrollment.
We also look at the number of VGAP recipients who earned credits with a “C” or better within the first two years of enrollment by credit range. When looking at the entering cohort in the fall and spring of 2007-08, we see that 51% of the VGAP recipients earned 48 or more credits in their first two-years of enrollment at a four-year institution. Of the remaining recipients, 18% earned between 36 and 47 credits, and 32% earned less than 36 credits, or no credits. While over half the cohort who entered in 2007-08 earned 48 or more credits within two years, only 21% earned 60 or more credits. Which means only a fifth of the VGAP recipients were on pace to complete an undergraduate degree in four-years.
Given the low percentage of VGAP recipients who earned 60 or more credits within the first two-years with a "C" or better, we also examine those who earned between 55 to 59 credits using the same criteria. Students who earn credits within this range are close to taking a normal, full-time load in the first two years. What we found is 15% of VGAP recipients earned between 55 and 59 credits with a "C" or better. When these students are combined with the 60 or more credit earners, the percentage of those on pace, or close to on pace, to complete an undergraduate degree in four years increases to 36%.
When we look at the most recent data available, we see that 59% of VGAP recipients entering in the fall and spring of 2011-12 earned 48 or more credits within the first two years of enrollment, an increase of eight percentage points over 2007-08. Between the 2007-08 and 2011-12 cohorts, VGAP recipients who earned 60 or more credits within the first two years of enrollment rose three percentage points and the total number of students increased by 24%.
To be consistent, we also examine the number of 2011 VGAP recipients who earned between 55 and 59 credits and about 17% earned credits within this range. Altogether, 41% of the 2011-12 VGAP recipients earned 55 credits or more within the first two years with a "C" or better, a five percentage point increase from those in the 2007-08 cohort.
While the percentage of VGAP recipients earning 60 or more credits within the first two-years with a “C” or better would appear to be discouraging, what these data show may not tell the entire story. It is important to note that we do not have a complete picture of the number of credits a FTIC student brings with them when they enroll at a Virginia college or university. This is because we do not know how many credits a student has earned through high school dual enrollment, advanced placement, international baccalaureate, or from courses taken at a community college that are accepted by the institution when the student first enrolls.
This is especially the case for the early cohorts. For instance, 33% of the 2007-08 VGAP recipients earned high school dual enrollment credit and 3% had credit from previous enrollment at a Virginia community college. Adding this information to what we do know about the credits earned within two years of enrollment at a four-year institution suggests an increase in the number of 2007-08 VGAP recipients who earned 60 credits or more within two years with a “C” or better.
One final note, not all students earn at least a C in all courses they take. Many students graduate with the occasional D or F and any credits associated with D grades are not included in the calculation of 60 or more credits earned.
Over the last five years, close to 93% of all VGAP recipients at a four-year institution in the Commonwealth were retained into the second year. When comparing the retention rates of all VGAP recipients to all other cohorts listed in the table (1) VGAP recipients who did receive Pell, 2) VGAP recipient who did not receive Pell, 3) FTIC, full-time, in-state students who received no aid at entry, and 4) FTIC, full-time, in-state students at entry), there are no distinguishable differences. The fact that the retention rates into the second year showed no significant variations between cohorts is notable, especially between the VGAP recipients with Pell cohort and all FTIC, full-time, in-state student cohort. For example, in 2012-13 VGAP recipients with Pell had a retention rate into the second year of 93.0%, compared to 92.8% of all FTIC, full-time, in-state students.
In looking at the completion rates of VGAP recipients, 71.5% completed an undergraduate degree at a four-year institution in Virginia within six years. This six-year completion rate of VGAP recipients is four percentage points lower than that of all FTIC, full-time, in-state students (76.2%). In this measure the completion rate means a student completed an undergraduate degree at a four-year institution, but not necessarily the institution in which they first enrolled.
When we compare the six-year completion rate of VGAP students to the six-year rate of FTIC, full-time, in-state students with no aid at entry (70.9%), VGAP recipients completed at a slightly higher rate. There may be many reasons why, including affordability and mobility of wealthier students who transferred out-of-state, that FTIC, full-time, in-state students with no aid at entry have a lower six-year completion rate than that of VGAP recipients; however, to truly determine the reasons a more comprehensive study would need to be conducted.
When we break out VGAP recipients into those who received Pell and those who did not, 69.9% of VGAP recipients with Pell completed an undergraduate degree within six years compared to 73.8% without Pell, a 4.2% difference.
Overall, when comparing all the cohorts’ completion rates between four and six years, the cohort which includes all FTIC, full-time, in-state students completed at a higher rate than all other cohorts. A final observation is the noticeable rise in the completion rate between the fourth and fifth years for each cohort – an over 20 percentage point increase.
For institutional detail on the completion rates of these cohorts, go to the Sub-Cohort Survival report, or click on the "(detail)" link in the table below.
After examining the most recent trends of VGAP recipients, these are the takeaways:
1. More VGAP recipients are women and majority students; however the gap in the proportion between men versus women and majority versus students of color recipients is closing
2. The financial need indicators show that more VGAP recipients are needier than in previous years -
a. Close to 60% have a family income within the low income range, which is around 10 percentage points higher than six years ago
b. Two-thirds received a Pell grant at entry – an increase of 13 percentage points from 2007-08
3. Over 90% of 2007-08 VGAP recipients were retained into their second year
4. A fifth of the 2007-08 VGAP recipients earned 60 or more credits within two years with a "C" or better, however when VGAP recipients who earned between 55 to 59 credits are combined with the 60 earners, the percentage rose to 36%
5. About 41% of 2007-08 VGAP recipients completed a four-year degree within four years at a four-year institution in Virginia
6. However, over 71% of 2007-08 VGAP recipients completed an undergraduate degree at a four-year institution in the Commonwealth within six years, which is slightly under the six-year rate for all FTIC, full-time, in-state students