College & Workforce Readiness

Persistent College-Going Gaps Probed in Latest ‘Condition of Education’ Report

By Sarah D. Sparks — May 22, 2019 1 min read

At every step in the college-going process, students from low-income families face a bumpier road than their wealthier peers.

That was one finding in the 2019 Condition of Education—the National Center on Education Statistics’ massive compendium of annual education indicators, from enrollment to staffing to achievement—which was released Tuesday morning.

One special analysis used longitudinal data to track how the poorest and wealthiest students entering 9th grade in 2009 fared seven years later—far enough along that most students would be out of high school, but could be at various points in their college or career life. As it turned out, more than 60 percent of students from both groups were working in 2016. But 78 percent of the wealthiest 20 percent of students were enrolled in postsecondary degree programs—50 percentage points more than students from families with the lowest 20 percent of income.

Moreover, the analysis found that while 80 percent of the highest-income students entered four-year degree programs, more than 60 percent of the students from the poorest families entered two-year colleges, including short-turnaround private for-profit programs. Students from poor families were also more likely to delay college or leave without finishing a degree:

In the end, the data show more than 1 in 4 of the poorest students were pursuing only a short-term certification; fewer than 1 in 3 pursued a bachelor’s degree as their first degree. That may be one reason a recent Georgetown University study found wealthy children with low test scores had more than a 70 percent chance of still being wealthy at age 25, while poor children with high test scores had less than a 1 in 3 chance of doing the same.

States, including Colorado, Massachusetts, and Tennessee, are exploring more intensive college mentoring and support as a way to encourage more low-income students to enroll and persist in college, with some success.


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Do you have a question about education research, or just want to know what the evidence says about that pesky instructional problem? Let me know! Drop me a line at ssparks@epe.org, or

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.