For over a decade, college costs have outpaced income growth, leaving students of color and students from low-income households with fewer financial resources, according to two new report briefs released this month by CLASP's Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success.
A follow up to CLASP’s “Mind the Gap” paper released in 2013, the "Barriers to Success: High Unmet Financial Need Continues to Endanger Higher Education Opportunities for Low-Income Students" and "Barriers to Success: Unmet Financial Need for Low-Income Students of Color in Community College" briefs reiterate that unmet need is still a major obstacle for these student populations as they pursue postsecondary education.
Decreased financial aid funding and mounting college costs "have led to sizable gaps in unmet need, pushing college out of reach for many low-income students of color," CLASP said in one of the briefs. For purposes of student financial aid, low-income students– particularly students of color– are more often deemed financially independent than higher-income and white students, CLASP reports. The nature of being an independent student means that parental resources are not available to help with college costs, therefore this group often has higher levels of unmet need and limited resources to turn to for support.
These higher levels of unmet need among low-income students of color often result in lower completion rates. For instance, data show that 62 percent of whites who entered college in 2005 received a degree within six years, compared to only 51 percent of blacks and 50 percent of Hispanics.
“The changing face of higher education requires bold rethinking of federal higher education policy to meet the needs of today’s non-traditional students, which include an increasing number of low-income students of color,” the brief said.
Regardless of ethnicity, the barrier created by unmet need can be particularly hard to overcome for students enrolled in community college. According to CLASP, the vast majority of dependent community college students in the two lowest income quartiles, and independent community college students in the three lowest quartiles, have unmet need. Data on independent students in the lowest income quartile showed 95 percent of full-time students and close to 80 percent of part-time students had unmet need. Dependent students in the lowest income quartile had even higher rates, with 97 percent of full-time and 88 percent of part-time students demonstrating unmet need.
Community college students have unique circumstances that “can make them particularly vulnerable when their college costs are not fully covered due to unmet need,” CLASP noted. Data show 51 percent of all community college students work more than 20 hours per week, which can increase time to degree, according to the brief.
Further, CLASP’s profile of community college student shows that 60 percent are independent and that 54 percent of independent community college students have at least one dependent of their own. "When work and school obligations begin to mount – in addition to family and other requirements of a student’s time – students may no longer be able to make schoolwork a priority," CLASP reported. These factors likely also play a role in diminished retention and completion rates.
Increasing aid to low-income students and better targeting existing funding would help to reduce community college students’ reliance on student loans, lessen the need to work while in school, and increase completion rates, the group reports.
Publication Date: 6/17/2015