College Access for the Working Poor: Overcoming Burdens to Succeed in Higher EducationReport as inadecuate

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Institute for Higher Education Policy

Expanding access to higher education is critical to improving the lives of the working poor, as jobs in today's economy increasingly require some higher education. The nation also needs higher educational achievement levels from this substantial sector of the population--about 14 percent of individuals ages 24-64--in order to meet the growing demands for a more highly skilled workforce. Today, however, the working poor face obstacles that continue to derail their efforts to attend, pay for, and complete college. As detailed in this report, working poor adults enroll in college at lower rates and are less likely to complete college. Even when accounting for financial aid, they struggle to meet the rising prices of higher education. This report takes one of the most comprehensive looks to date at the higher education experiences, financial challenges, and attendance and completion rates of the working poor. The data, findings, and recommendations in this report will help the public and policymakers understand the challenges facing the working poor and give them guidance as they explore and develop the policies and practices that are needed to raise the expectations, enrollment, and completion rates of the working poor. Sources and Methodology are appended. (Contains 15 figures and 20 footnotes.) [This paper was written with the assistance of Alisa F. Cunningham.]

Descriptors: Higher Education, Educational Finance, Economically Disadvantaged, Low Income Groups, Access to Education, Barriers, Success, Adults, Paying for College, Enrollment Trends, Postsecondary Education, Tax Credits, One Parent Family, Student Financial Aid, First Generation College Students

Institute for Higher Education Policy. 1825 K Street Suite 720, Washington, DC 20006. Tel: 202-861-8223; Fax: 202-861-9307; e-mail: institute[at]; Web site:

Author: McSwain, Courtney; Davis, Ryan


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