Low-income students and college

An evil twin to Paul’s earlier post about the continuing economic benefits of a college education is the depressing news that fewer and fewer low-income students are both attending and graduating from college (see full article):

Fewer low- and moderate-income high school graduates are attending college in America, and fewer are graduating. Enrollment in four-year colleges was 40 percent in 2004 for low-income students, down from 54 percent in 1992, and 53 percent in 2004 for moderate-income students, down from 59 percent over the same period, according to  a report recently submitted to Congress by the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance. […]

Persistence through four-year colleges dropped to 75 percent in students entering in 2003 for low-income students, down from 78 percent in students entering in 1995, while persistence for students from moderate-income families remained at 81 percent. Persistence rates for low- and moderate-income students in two-year colleges, however, fell 10 percentage points to 49 percet over the same period.

A significant part of this is economics.  As the article notes, the net price for a low-income student attending a four-year college is 48 percent of family income, compared to 26 percent for a moderate-income student. Combine this with the tendency of students to pile on more and more debt, and the opportunity of college can quickly become financial quicksand.

Public K-12 education is increasingly focused on students attending college. As the study that Paul cited shows, that can be a catalytic factor in improving incomes.  But as the focus on college as a partial solution to basic issues like income inequality increases, it is equally important that the students are college-ready, and that college is affordable. We do no one a favor by praising the benefits of a college education for which a student is unprepared and unable to finish, and then sticking them with the bill.

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