College Participation of Low-Income Students

College Participation of Low-Income Students

Low-Income Postsecondary Enrollment Trends

Education is a pivotal component to escaping poverty. Children born in the lowest income level have a 55 percent chance of moving into a higher income level if they never earn a college degree. Children with a college degree have an 84 percent chance of moving into a higher income bracket.9 In 2010–11, there was a 20 percentage-point gap between the number of low-income and non-low-income Iowa students who enrolled in college within 16 months of graduating from high school. Low-income students were identified as those who received free or reduced price lunches in high school.10

Recent national trends show that the enrollment gap between low-income and non-low-income students might be growing. There has been an overall decrease in postsecondary enrollment of recent high school graduates since 2010, but the percentage of low-income students enrolling in postsecondary education has dropped more rapidly than middle- and high-income students. Nationally, the percentage of high-income students pursuing college fell by 3 percent and the percentage for middle-income students fell by 1.5 percent, while the percentage for low-income students fell by 10 percent between 2008 and 2013, increasing the gap between low- and high-income enrollment to 33 percent.11

Low-Income Student Persistence

Whether or not a student qualifies for a Pell Grant is a gauge of income level, with those who qualify coming from lower-income families. The percentage of the full-time undergraduate student body that receives the Pell Grant is four times higher at private, for-profit institutions than at Regent Universities. Community colleges come in second with 51 percent of full-time students receiving Pell Grants.4 Nationally, private, for-profit four-year universities and community colleges have the lowest graduation rates at 32 percent and 21 percent, respectively.13 Students who receive student loans but do not graduate are more likely to default on student loan payments than students who graduate.14 The cost of starting but not finishing a college degree might make the economic situation more difficult for low-income Iowans.

Low-income students are less likely to remain and finish college after enrolling. Students from high-income families are 5 times more likely to have a bachelor’s degree than students from low-income familes.9 Considering only those students who enrolled in college, there is a 78 percent gap in bachelor’s degree attainment between the bottom and top income levels.15 These gaps are larger than the 20 percent college enrollment gap between high- and low-income students, pointing to issues of persistence.

Low-income students are less likely to attend colleges or universities that match their academic ability, with half of these students under-matching, or having the ability to attend a selective institution yet enrolling at a less-selective college. Students who attend more selective institutions are more likely to graduate, finish their degree on time and have higher earnings after college.9

Low-income students who cannot secure adequate financial aid might be forced to choose between focusing on studies and working to pay bills, affecting persistence in college. In 2014, 56,000 U.S. students identified as homeless on the FAFSA. This number is likely to be higher since students who are identified as independent by other criteria might not be asked about homeless status. In a survey of 10 community colleges, one in five students said they had gone hungry in the previous 30 days due to lack of money, 13 percent had experienced homelessness and just over half were at risk of facing these conditions.16

Communities are increasingly turning their focus to the challenges faced by homeless college students. One example, the College and University Food Bank Alliance, started in 2012 on 13 campuses. Since then the group has grown to include
320 members on 315 campuses nationwide providing assistance to food-insecure college students.

9)     The Executive Office of the President. (2014). Increasing College Opportunity for Low-Income Students.
10)   Iowa Department of Education. (2014). IND 11.6.1 - All Locations - C11 Indicator (Percentage of Students Who Attend College within 16 months), 2010-2011.
11)   Nellum, C. & Hartle, T. (2015) Where Have All the Low-Income Students Gone? Higher Education Today.
12)   Dukes, C. (2013). College Access and Success for Students Experiencing Homelessness. National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.
13)   National Center for Education Statistics. (2014). Graduation Rates for Selected Cohorts, 2005-10; and Student Financial Aid in Postsecondary Institutions, Academic Year 2012-13.
14)   Mitchell, J. (2015). Who’s Most Likely to Default on Student Loans? The Wall Street Journal.
15)   Pell Institute. (2015). Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States.
16)   Goldrick-Rab, S. & Broton, K.M. (2015). Hungry, Homeless and in College. The New York Times.


Printed from the Iowa College Student Aid Commission website on May 25, 2018 at 10:51pm.