New Study Shows Graduation Rate Gap Between Rich and Poor Students


The new report was released on Tuesday from the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education and the University of Pennsylvania Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy (PennAHEAD) finding the graduation gap between the richest and poorest students in American to have doubled within the last 40 years.

The study, Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States, took an in-depth look at graduation rates of bachelor’s degree earning students under the age of 24 over a period of 45 years.

Interestingly, the results of the study show that there was a minuscule 3 point increase in students from lower income households earning a bachelor’s degree since 1970. This means that only 9% of these students graduated with a four year degree.

The results for the more affluent students are equally as shocking with a reported 33 point increase in the graduation rate. So, 77% of students from wealthy families are said to graduate college compared to the 33% from 1970.

“It’s really quite amazing how big the differences have become between those from the highest and lowest family incomes,” said Laura Perna, University of Pennsylvania professor and executive director for Higher Education and Democracy.

There are several contributing factors to the ever expanding gap between the “have’s” and “have not’s,” according to Perna. She sites information, support, readiness and the accessibility to post-secondary education as important factors that ultimately contribute to who graduates and who does not.

Also believed to hinder successful graduation are issues of transportation to and from school, child care issues and having to juggle work responsibilities.

It’s a common misconception that federal and state funding alleviates these worries for college students, when that is in fact not the case at all.

There are indeed federal grants offered to some students, but the continuing increase of tuition has impacted how far those funds go greatly. This is glaringly obvious when we see that only about 27% of the costs to attend college incurred are covered by these grants.

Margaret Cahalan, director of the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, said “We sometimes think that low-income students are taken care of because of the federal program. But you can see it covers so much less than when it was first established.”

The new proposal from the Obama administration offering the first two years of college for free comes at the right time as the completion gap continues to widen, tuition increases and funding at the state and federal level decreases. It provides a beacon of hope to those with a desire to pursue higher education who may be struggling with the funds, time and the means to logistically attend college and actually graduate.

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