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Community college students hit harder by poverty

A recent survey by Lake Research Partners examined the reasons that community college students both persist and drop out. Although the reasons for remaining enrolled in or leaving school are varied, community college students often experience common events that are characteristic of living in poverty.

The survey asked about some of these experiences and compared the results of the 2023 survey to those of the 2022 survey. Among these findings were that in 2023, about six out of ten students at community colleges fell behind on a credit card or loan payment, or a utility bill. This compares to half of all community college students queried in the 2022 survey. Among all American adults, 49% experienced a credit card or loan delinquency in 2023.

The number of two-year students who fell behind on their rent or mortgage payments also increased between 2022 and 2023, despite the robustness of the US economy. Forty-two percent of community college students who participated in the survey reported missing or being late with a mortgage or rent payment in 2023. That compares to about 1.1% of all Americans who became delinquent on a mortgage payment in 2023, and about 13% of Americans who had trouble paying the rent on time last year.

More than half – 52% – of community college students in the survey reported that they had applied for public assistance in 2023. That compares to one out of five Americans who rely on some form of public assistance to make it through the month.

Almost 25% of Americans report that they cannot afford their prescriptions. Among community college students, this number increases to one in three.

Instructional disinvestment hurts community college students

These comparisons point out the undeniable need for community colleges to do better when it comes to preparing people for high-wage, high-demand jobs. People who attend community colleges struggle more often and more deeply with poverty than the average American does.

When community colleges fail to provide their students with academic pathways to escape poverty, they fail the entire community they’re supposed to serve. Worse, when they continue to offer programs that trap people in low-wage jobs or prepare them for low-demand, high turnover fields, they all but ensure that their graduates will never escape poverty.

The survey underscores the depth of the problem that community college students face. They come to their local community college looking for help. Unfortunately, what they often find are programs that waste their time and money.

It is time to hold community college administrations accountable for the results their institutions produce. We must recognize that the diversion of instructional funds to pay for additional executives and expensive construction projects on campus comes at a cost to the members of our community who can least afford it. If we do not, we will not be able to save the community college system.

Photo Credit: Images Money , via Flickr