Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Low-Income Young Adults are the New Face of the College-Going Population

Institute for Higher Education Policy
Tia T. Gordon
202 372 7204

Low-Income Young Adults are the New Face of the College-Going Population
New Data Show Increased College Opportunity for Poor Youth, But Getting Out of Poverty Remains Elusive

Washington, D.C., June 9, 2010—At a time when President Obama has declared that “in the 21st century, the best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education,”* the nation's 35.2 million young adults are increasingly seeking the social and economic benefits experienced only through postsecondary education. In fact, nearly 60 percent of young adults from low-income backgrounds had attended, or earned a credential from a postsecondary institution in 2008. However, despite the high levels of engagement, one in 10 impoverished young adults who had earned a college degree failed to immediately transcend the poverty threshold.
The new brief, A Portrait of Low-Income Young Adults in Education, is the first of a new publication series called “Portraits” being launched today by the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP). The paper draws from the most recent national data to describe the population of low-income young adults—between ages 18 and 26 and whose total household income is near or below the federal poverty level—and situates them in the context of national college completion goals. It specifically outlines the demographic characteristics of low-income young adults while providing a brief overview of their pre-college and degree attainment trends.
In 2008, 44 percent of all young adults in the United States were from a low-income background. In terms of their highest level of education, one out of four young adults in poverty had earned a high school diploma or its equivalent (GED), while 18 percent left high school without attaining a diploma.Differences by Race/Ethnicity
Young Black, Hispanic, and Native American students from low-income backgrounds represented larger shares of high school non-completers than Whites or Asians, which significantly decreased the proportion of the former who were able to enter postsecondary education in the traditional way.
Despite lagging behind similar Whites and Asians, the proportion of low-income young Black and Hispanic adults who have some postsecondary education but no degree has been increasing at a faster rate than their White and Asian counterparts. Between 2000 and 2008, the proportion of low-income young adults who have some postsecondary education experience increased by 5 percent for Blacks and 8 percent for Hispanics, compared to 3 percent for Whites and 2 percent for Asians. Degree Attainment
White students from low-income backgrounds were twice as likely as their Black and Hispanic counterparts to attain a postsecondary credential (14 percent vs. 6 percent and 7 percent, respectively) but remain poor.
"While it was surprising to learn low-income young adults are entering postsecondary education in increased numbers comparable to other students, it was equally astonishing to discover this population continues to struggle with earning a living wage even after obtaining their hard earned credentials," said IHEP President Michelle Asha Cooper, Ph.D. "These students already face considerable barriers on their path to earn a postsecondary degree, so it would certainly benefit them the most to take full advantage of improved income outcomes."
Subsequent Portraits briefs will explore potential causes for these findings by examining low-income young adults’ educational aspirations and academic preparation, movement in and between institutions, financial aid and debt burdens and, ultimately, educational outcomes.
The publication series is part of IHEP’s “Changing the Debate” initiative, which is set to bring timely, thought-provoking, and data-driven research and promising interventions to the policy debate. Supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the project findings will contribute to the national discussion about how economic opportunities may not be immediately felt among disadvantaged, and largely understudied, student populations simply by increasing degree completion. For more information about the Portraits series or to download a free copy of the A Portrait of Low-Income Young Adults in Education brief, please visit IHEP’s Web site at
*Comments taken from President Obama’s “State of the Union” address delivered on Jan. 27, 2010.
About the Institute for Higher Education Policy--->
The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) is an independent, nonprofit organization that is dedicated to increasing access and success in postsecondary education around the world. Established in 1993, the Washington, D.C.-based organization uses unique research and innovative programs to inform key decision makers who shape public policy and support economic and social development. IHEP’s web site,, features an expansive collection of higher education information available free of charge and provides access to some of the most respected professionals in the fields of public policy and research.
About the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation--->Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, the foundation is led by CEO Patty Stonesifer and Co-Chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.

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