Why 40% of Low-Income College Students Never Show Up for Class

Posted By Terri Williams on January 11, 2016 at 2:39 pm
Why 40% of Low-Income College Students Never Show Up for Class

While a college degree is usually a prerequisite for a successful career, many high school graduates are electing to forgo this route. Recent research indicates that a disquieting percentage of low-income students who apply to – and are actually accepted into college – are choosing not to attend.

According to The Hechinger Report, 40% of low-income students who are accepted into college in the spring of each year never show up for classes in the fall.

GoodCall spoke with three experts to discover what’s behind these alarming rates, and what can be done to increase the number of low-income students who actually attend – and graduate – from college.

Possible causes

According to Steve Rothberg, President and Founder of College Recruiter, “There is a big difference between a college accepting a student for admission, the student accepting that offer, and the student enrolling.” Rothberg says there is a significant drop-off at each stage, which can occur for a variety of reasons, but he points to financial aid as the primary reason these students don’t show up in the fall.

“Schools correctly tell students to apply and not worry about the sticker price for tuition because the merit- and need-based aid can take a very expensive school and make it very low cost and sometimes even free,” says Rothberg. However, he notes that lower-income students are more likely to be affected if the school doesn’t provide adequate financial aid. As a general rule, they don’t have the ability to pay costs that are not covered in the financial aid package.

In addition to financial aid challenges, low-income college students may also face other obstacles. “If they are the first in their families to attend college, they might feel intimidated by the demands of college,” says Dr. Fernando Figueroa, vice chancellor for educational policy in the Dallas County Community College District. “They may feel that college is not for them because they have never seen anyone in their family attending college.”

Dr. Figueroa also says that it might be difficult for them to navigate the admissions and registration process, especially during peak registration periods. And as the first generation in their family to even apply to college, many low-income students may not have a strong support system of family and friends to provide guidance and counseling, or keep them on track and make sure that they fill out the proper forms for financial aid and meet various admission and financial aid deadlines.

Possible solutions

So what can be done to help improve the percentage of low-income students who are accepted into college, but fail to show up on the first day of class? The Dallas County Community College District has a successful blueprint for trying to stop these students from falling through the cracks.

According to Dr. Figueroa, the DCCCD has created a texting project in partnership with city and county independent school districts with high numbers of low-income students. “Seniors receive reminders about admission, placement testing, financial aid, orientation, and advising to ensure their enrollment,” explains Dr. Figueroa.

And the district realizes that getting students to attend the first day of class is only half of the battle. The other challenge is to get them to remain in school until they complete a degree.

According to Dr. Anna Mays, DCCCD’s associate vice chancellor for educational policy and student success, “Students who are not goal-oriented toward a specific degree or career program are more likely to withdraw from college or not complete a degree or certificate.” Dr. Mays says there is a concerted effort among all of the state’s community colleges and school districts to provide a more guided pathway from high school that leads to a certificate, degree, employment, or transfer to a university. It would appear that these programs are making a difference: in the past six years, DCCCD has doubled its graduation rates.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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