Poverty Among College Students Increases The Overall Rate

Strayer University students often have difficulty getting transcripts after the graduation ceremony. CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK
Strayer University students often have difficulty getting transcripts after the graduation ceremony. CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

Poverty rates in many areas of the country decline significantly when they exclude off-campus college students living on their own, a new Census Bureau working paper finds.

The Census Bureau calculated that 15.2 percent of the population officially lives in poverty. But for college students living off-campus and not living with relatives, the poverty rate is 51.8 percent. When eliminating them from the official poverty rate calculation, only 14.5 percent of Americans live below the poverty level.

College students who live in dorms are automatically eliminated from calculations of the poverty rate, but students living off-campus are not, so the Census Bureau isolated data for these students recorded by the American Community Survey from 2009 to 2011.

The data reveals that in counties with high proportions of college students relative to the total population, the poverty rate declines when eliminating off-campus college students, and in most cases, this drop is statistically significant. For example, in Monroe County, Indiana, home to Indiana University, the poverty rate is 25.5 percent but drops to 13.8 percent when excluding off-campus college students. Similarly, the poverty rate for Centre County, Pennsylvania, home to Penn State University, is 20.2 percent but plummets to 9.8 percent without off-campus college students.

The data is particularly striking when narrowed down to college towns.

The results of the data are another sign that the prevalence of poverty among college students is quite high.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 29 percent of students nationwide have household incomes below $20,000, 79 percent work full or part time in addition to taking classes, and 35 percent are parents or have dependents (17 percent are single parents). These financial burdens can constrain college students’ potential. Many are forced to drop out of school, creating a vicious cycle of poverty because without education, it is increasingly difficult to emerge out of poverty and enter the middle class.


Overall, more college students are having to work long hours to finance their educations. The American Community Survey found that in 2011, 19.6 of undergraduates nationwide worked a full-time, year-round job. By contrast, in 2005, just under 10 percent of college students were working full time.

The Census paper also notes that 63.3 percent of college students live with their parents or relatives, suggesting that the sluggish economy is making it difficult for students to attend college further from home and live on their own.