College Guide


June 10, 2010 10:00 AM College, Maybe Not So Lucrative

By Daniel Luzer

In January President Obama said in his state of the union address that “the best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education.” This may be true in an aggregate sense but it’s apparently not always true on a personal level. Despite attending college, many Americans are still pretty poor. According to an article by Sara Lipka in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

In 2008, among Americans ages 18 to 26 whose total household income was near or below the federal poverty level, 47 percent were or had been enrolled in college, compared with 42 percent in 2000. Eleven percent of them had earned a degree, a proportion roughly equivalent to that eight years ago, according to the report, which is based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

It’s a little unclear how this happens. A lot of the poverty appears to come from people who merely attended college briefly and never earned a degree. But what’s happening with that eleven percent of people with college degrees? This may be a reflection of the economy, though the numbers date from 2008, or it may indicate that college isn’t the big income booster it used to be.

Read the report about income and college attendance, by the Institute for Higher Education Policy, here.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • Robert Waldmann on June 10, 2010 7:43 PM:

    I think the key to understanding the high numbers is "were or had been" and 18-25. I'd say it is clear that many of the poor and near poor in the sample were college students at the time of the survey. I'd guess many were counted as single person households. The result then is that lot's of college students have incomes below or near $10,000 a year.

    Those with degrees might be graduate students. Many people with college degrees continue their education. I recall having been close to the poverty line myself for a while.

    I see no surprise in the fact that students who live away from home and not in dormitories are often poor or near poor.

    I'd be interested in statistics related to people aged 18-25 who aren't students (or who aren't full time students).

  • buddy66 on June 10, 2010 8:08 PM:

    I didn't go to college to get a good job. I went to college to find out how the world worked. I found out all right. I found out why most people in the world live in poverty.

  • toowearyforoutrage on June 10, 2010 9:15 PM:

    What was the degree in? Art? Music? Starving artists aren't just cliches.

    Did they opt for low-paying, non-profit, public service that offers non-monetary rewards?

  • JPS on June 10, 2010 10:03 PM:

    What kind of degree did the respondents have? An AA/AS degree, or a BA/BS degree?