Low-Income Young Adults in Higher Education
In 2008, there were 35.2 million young adults, of whom 15.5 million were from families living at, near or below the poverty level (U.S. Census Bureau 2008). Despite facing numerous challenges, nearly 60 percent of low-income young adults were attending, or earned a credential from a postsecondary institution during this time. Although encouraging, this statistic combines three distinct groups of low-income young adults: (1) Those individuals who were enrolled in postsecondary education; (2) those who had been enrolled at some earlier point, but had not attained a degree; and (3) those who had earned a postsecondary credential, but were still considered poor. In fact, roughly one in 10 low-income young adults holds a postsecondary degree, but has yet to leave behind the tight grasp of poverty. The second and third groups are especially problematic from an educational, economic, and social perspective.
SNAPSHOT OF LOW-INCOME YOUNG ADULTS AND THEIR EDUCATIONAL EXPERIENCES*
- In 2008, 44 percent of all young adults in the United States were from a low-income background. In terms of their highest level of education, one out of four young adults in poverty had earned a high school diploma or its equivalent (GED), while 18 percent left high school without attaining a diploma.
Differences by Race/Ethnicity
- Young Black, Hispanic, and Native American students from low-income backgrounds represented larger shares of high school non-completers than Whites or Asians, which significantly decreased the proportion of the former who were able to enter postsecondary education in the traditional way.
- Despite lagging behind similar Whites and Asians, the proportion of low-income young Black and Hispanic adults who have some postsecondary education but no degree has been increasing at a faster rate than their White and Asian counterparts. Between 2000 and 2008, the proportion of low-income young adults who have some postsecondary education experience increased by 5 percent for Blacks and 8 percent for Hispanics, compared to 3 percent for Whites and 2 percent for Asians.
- White students from low-income backgrounds were twice as likely as their Black and Hispanic counterparts to attain a postsecondary credential (14 percent vs. 6 percent and 7 percent, respectively) but remain poor.
*Findings taken from the report, A Portrait of Low-Income Young Adults in Education.
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