Low Income Students Ditching College

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Not enough money to pursue a higher education.

College is supposed to be the great equalizer. At least that what is what academic experts would have us believe when it comes to attending college and leaving school enriched and with a job-enhancing degree in hand.

Is college unaffordable?

Emmeline Zhao, commenting on The Wall Street Journal’s Real Time Economics blog, cites a report recently submitted to Congress as evidence of a downward educational trend for financially-challenged students. That report, developed by the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance and titled “The Rising Price of Inequality,” noted that inadequate grant aid is keeping some students away from campus.

Sinking Enrollment

The study revealed some startling statistics including that enrollment in four-year colleges for low-income students sunk from 54 percent in 1992 to 40 percent in 2004 and for moderate-income students that rate dropped from 59 percent to 53 percent over the same period.

According to Zhao, the net price for attending a four-year public college in 2007 for a low-income student was $10,620 — 48% of family income — up from $7,570 — 48% of family income — in 1992. The cost for a moderate-income student increased over the same period to $14,650 — 26% of family income — from $8,790 — 22% of family income.

Family Matters

Most telling in the report was a survey where students whose parents were “very concerned” about college costs chose not to apply to four-year schools at all, one-third the total of poorer students in fact. But if their parents didn’t express concern about college costs a full 90 percent enrolled in a four-year college.

So, are community and other two-year colleges the answer for low-income students? Apparently not as this group of students is three times more likely to finish college if they enrolled in a four-year college from the start. Saving money at a community college apparently does little to encourage these students to transfer to a four-year college in a bid to earn their bachelor degree.

Persistence Rates

The report also looked closely at the persistence rate of low-income students who attend a four-year college beginning with their freshmen year. Of the group who entered college in 1995, 78 percent finished school. That number dropped to 75 percent for students who began college eight years later. The rate for moderate income students held steady at 81 percent.

What solutions were offered? The main one, of course, is financial aid with the group recommending that it be increased and broadened. The report studied public universities, but noted that private colleges do a better job of welcoming lower income students to their schools and offering more financial aid.

With college costs continuing to outpace inflation, the number of students of limited financial means who may decide against attending college will probably continue to rise. Financial aid is important, but so is holding down costs across the board.

Adv. — Financial aid shortfalls need not keep you from attending college. Private student loans, as offered by Sallie Mae, could be the best option for students seeking help.

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Categories: Campus News