Sunday, February 8, 2015


If we needed more evidence of the impact of poverty on educational attainment, a new study from the Pell Institute for Opportunity in Higher Education sheds more light on college completion rates among students of different economic backgrounds. The study is summarized in this article from

From the article, written by Libby Nelson: "This chart (from the article) shows the percentage of 24-year-olds with a bachelor's degree based on their family income. Of the top quartile, 77 percent eventually get a degree. In the bottom quartile, just 9 percent do".

The statistics in the Pell study are truly astonishing. For those students from the top quartile who actually enroll in college, 99% graduate. For those who enroll from the bottom quartile, the percentage graduating is 21%.

The importance of poverty in education continues to be illuminated, from preschool to college. Last year, we showed the correlation of free/reduced lunch with preparation for reading in a blog post.

In March, 2014, Zach Goldfarb of the Washington blogged about the relationship between SAT scores and income levels. The SAT is highly correlated with free/reduced lunch percentages in schools, as was shown in this post in Data Points.

Back in 2013, economists Richard Rothstein and Martin Carnoy reported on the website of the Economic Policy Institute about their investigation of the economic conditions underlying the performance of United States students compared with those of students from other participating countries, In their report, "What do international tests really show about U.S. student performance?, Rothstein and Carnoy wrote:

"Because social class inequality is greater in the United States than in any of the countries with which we can reasonably be compared, the relative performance of U.S. adolescents is better than it appears when countries’ national average performance is conventionally compared."

Of course, none of this means that students from poverty cannot achieve, nor does it mean they can't be successful in college. However, specific efforts undertaken by schools (AVID, for example) can help to shift the odds in favor of these students.