Study Outlines Challenges for Low-Income Working Students

By Jones, Lamont, Jr. | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, September 20, 2018 | Go to article overview

Study Outlines Challenges for Low-Income Working Students


Jones, Lamont, Jr., Diverse Issues in Higher Education


Low-income undergraduates who work are less likely than their higher-income counterparts to obtain a bachelor's degree, and they are disproportionately women, Latino, Black and first-generation college students..

And while many students work out of necessity--about 70 percent of college students hold a job--the more hours students work while in college, the more likely their grades are to be lower. Those are some of the major findings in the research report "Balancing Work and Learning: Implications for Low-Income Students" based on a study by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy.

Other key findings:

* About 6 million of the 14 million working students, or 43 percent, are low-income.

* Low-income working students are more likely than their higher-income working classmates to attend for-profit or two-year public colleges, or enroll in a certificate program.

* Even low-income working learners with high academic performance are less likely than their higher-income working counterparts to earn any type of credential.

* Higher-income working students, about 73 percent of whom are White, are more likely than low-income working students to be in a bachelor's program at selective four-year schools.

* Completion of a bachelor's degree within six years is 37 percent among higher-income working students and only 22 percent among low-income working students.

* Among all levels of post-secondary education, 46 percent of higher-income working students fail to attain any credential within six years; the same is true for 57 percent of low-income working students.

The study also found that, while working tends to help students from higher-income households--likely because they can afford to work fewer hours and tend to have access to the best-paying jobs--unequal access to financial safety nets and other support mechanisms makes it difficult for low-income students to successfully juggle school and work.

"You can't work your way through college anymore," said Dr. Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce and the report's lead author. "Colleges need to do a better job of providing the right support services to ensure their working students have the means to reach graduation and gainful employment."

Underrepresented groups are particularly impacted by working while trying to get a post-secondary education. The study found that the ranks of low-income working students are 58 percent female, 47 percent first-generation college students, 25 percent Latino and 18 percent Black.

"The demands of balancing part-time or full-time employment alongside postsecondary education can present a real challenge for low-income students who already have very limited financial means," said Dr. Michelle Asha Cooper, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy.

For many low-income students, she added, "a part-time or full-time job is an absolute necessity."

The Georgetown Center report sheds additional light on the results of an IHEP study released last year that indicated that college unaffordability is rooted in income inequity. …

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