More students who are low-income and first-generation are enrolling in college, but many still aren't completing a bachelor's degree.
The 2020 Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States, a report published by the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, found that for every 100 low-income and first-generation dependent student who enrolls in college, only 26 will have completed a four-year degree six years later, compared to nearly 70 percent of students who aren't low-income or first-generation.
Independent students have even worse outcomes. Only about 9 percent received a bachelor's degree six years after enrolling.
The report examines several possible factors for this continued inequity, including costs. The maximum federal Pell Grant, for example, covered only 25 percent of average college costs in 2018-19. In 1975-76, the grant covered about 67 percent of average college costs.
Net college costs are taking up bigger pieces of poor families' incomes, as well, according to the reprot. In 2008, the net price of college was 56 percent of the incomes of families in the lowest income quartile. By 2016, it had risen to 96 percent.
Since the 1970s, students have faced inequities for degree attainment based on their families' incomes, the report found. From 1970 to 2018, there has been almost no progress in the percentage of bachelor's degrees awarded to the richest and poorest dependent students by age 24.
“We must face the fact that the statistics we track in this report show systemic inequality at every step of the college journey for low-income and first-generation students. These inequalities are unmasked and made more challenging by the COVID-19 pandemic. As we recover and rebuild there is a need for bold ambitious new plans to seize this slightly more open moment as a portal to a more equitable, resilient and environmentally sustainable system,” Margaret Cahalan, co-author of the report and director of the Pell Institute, said in a news release.