Poverty and Higher Education

There are plenty of factors that can negatively impact the chances that a child born in poverty will graduate with a bachelor's degree.

Above copied from
Center for Poverty Research, UC Davis
Those born in affluent families have ample opportunities to visit zoos, museums, and even other countries during their early childhood years. Rich children can afford to spend their days in high quality preschools. They are introduced to a greater number of books in their homes. Their parents, unlike those in poor households who are often forced to work more than forty hours a week just to make ends meet, are able to spend more of their time and money with their young children. Poor children likewise spend their formative years in poor neighborhoods. The environment a child grows in is also strongly correlated with a child's chances of reaching college. Schools that provide basic education to these poor neighborhoods also experience the greatest challenges. Like a domino effect, even if a poor child manages to finish high school, graduating from struggling elementary and high schools means limited options in college admissions. These poor students end up enrolling in poor quality colleges.

Addressing all of these truly requires a gigantic effort. Improving outcomes in education clearly involves much more than reforming schools. It requires helping parents and revitalizing communities. And when a poor child does succeed in basic education, higher education must do its part as well. In this area, one can be easily tempted of the simple solution of tuition-free college. This seems socially fashionable these days. Unfortunately, one overlooks the fact that not only do poor children have trouble finishing high school, but when they do, they also have difficulty getting admitted to a high quality college. Recent research clearly shows that admissions officers in selective colleges in the United States are less likely to offer admission to poor students (Lower socioeconomic status (SES) students):

Above copied from
Improving Admission of Low-SES Students at Selective Colleges
Michael N. Bastedo, Nicholas A.Bowman
Educational Researcher
Vol 46, Issue 2, pp. 67 - 77
First published date: March-09-2017
The admission outcomes are improved slightly when officers are provided more detailed information regarding a poor student, factors that are relevant to an applicant's academic achievements. I served once in the admissions committee at Georgetown University and knowing that an applicant, for instance, is a first-generation college applicant, can be an important factor to consider.

Obviously, admission is only the first step. Poor children also struggle in college especially when they are so different from their peers. They need not only financial but also social support to thrive in higher education. The grip of poverty on education outcomes is strong. Solutions are not simple.