thrive low-income students

New data: Higher ed has massive misconceptions about low-income student success


New data released at EDUCAUSE challenges the commonly held perception that low-income students have a categorical deficit and cannot thrive in a variety of four-year college ecosystems.

Contrary to a commonly-held belief that low-income students are more likely to struggle in a four-year institution, new data indicates students from low-income households are, in fact, likely to thrive in four-year institutions, according to a new survey.

Higher education institutions are relying on predictive analysis to make decisions about admission and resource allocation, but that process could perpetuate the under-representation of minority and low-income students, according to a survey released by vibeffect at EDUCAUSE.

The comprehensive survey includes data from students in 5,000 households, spans 1,000 institutions and covers 260 variables. Four comparison groups are used for analysis:

  • Low-income high-thrivers (LI-HT) with household income below $35,000
  • High-income high-thrivers (HI-HT) with household income of $150,000 or higher
  • Low-income- all other (LI-AO)
  • All other high-thrivers (AO-HT)

It reveals that students from low-income households ($35,000 household income and below) have an equal probability of earning a “high-thriving” designation on all dimensions of thriving, and often are equally represented in the highest-thriving group.

(Next page: What the results reveal about supporting low-income students)

Traits and Thriving

Close to 260 variables per student are collected in the national study including the following breakdown:

  • 91 student Traits, as current college student and reflecting back on high-school
  • 59 student demographics and day to day life, work, social details, student academic experiences and preferences
  • 110 campus ecosystem features including instruction, support systems, qualities of social and academic experiences, student body, on and off campus life and technological infrastructure

Challenging a Misconception

Of the students surveyed, 16 percent qualified as low-income students, and 15 percent of this population are considered high-thriving according to vibeffect’s College Optimizer Index (COI), which is part of a scientific model that measures a student’s personal, academic and social levels of thriving at four-year institutions. This is compared to the 11 percent of the students who qualified as high-income ($150,000 household income and above), of which 12 percent qualified as high-thriving.

Measuring race proportions in the overall population and the sub-groups of high-thrivers demonstrated that each race has equal opportunities of thriving; thus confirming that income does not significantly impact a student’s probability of thriving.

“We are releasing this data to challenge the commonly held perception that these individuals have a categorical deficit and cannot thrive in a variety of four-year college ecosystems,“ said Elena M. Cox, CEO of vibeffect. “These low income students, like their peers, want their college to take good care of them during this transitional period in their lives–but more than that, these students want their college to help them become a success story.”

More Findings

According to the survey:

  • Holding a part-time job (10-19 hours per week) increases the probability of thriving for low-income students.
  • 81 percent of low-income, high-thriving students strongly agree that the skills learned at college will be beneficial beyond college and into the real world.
  • 68 percent of low-income high-thrivers had parents who had only some college or less education, compared to 7 percent of high-income high-thrivers.

The study also asks low-income high-thrivers currently in college to reflect back on various traits they identified with in high-school as traits that could be supported and encouraging at an earlier stage for more low-income students to be better prepared for college. For example, the low-income high-thrivers in the analysis more strongly identify with the following three traits as describing them before entering college:

  • Good at making wise financial decisions: low-income high-thrivers were slightly more likely to identify this trait than both other Low-Income students and high-income high thrivers.
  • Asking for help when needed was important to them: low-income high-thrivers were more likely to identify this as a key trait compared to high-income high-thrivers.
  • They face challenges with self-confidence: low-income high-thrivers were much more likely to identify this trait prior to entering college than other low-income students in the dataset.

For much more detailed analysis, including data on race, gender, work hours, real-world skills, campus touring, and much more, click here.

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Laura Ascione
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