Effects of Poverty on College Education in the USA

Last Updated: 21 Apr 2020
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Table of contents

Thesis: Poverty not only affects the living standards and lifestyle of people but also affects college education in the United States of America.

  • Introduction
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  • An overview of the effect of poverty on college education.
  • Thesis statement.
  • Effects of poverty on college education.
  • Poor quality of primary education in poverty-stricken areas leads to poor performance in college.
  • People from poverty-stricken areas have less access to good college education as they lack financial resources to meet the college education cost.
  • Poverty affecting college students makes the students juggle between full time jobs and class schedules.
  • Poor professionalism resulting from poverty affects the economic development of the United States.
  • Conclusion


Poverty entails a collection of several factors befalling an individual, family or a group of people that lead to impossibility for such a person, family or group of people to afford the basic human needs. Prolongation of such a state for at least three generations leads to a cycle of poverty, and according to this condition, it is not possible for such people to break out of this situation without external interventions. In this case, the affected people or families have limited or no resources for livelihood and, therefore, end up not being able to afford the basic human needs such as food, clothing, shelter, health care and education.

Continued lack of financial resources and education make the poor grow poorer. This problem affects both the developed and developing countries in the world. In the United States, poverty rates range from 10% to 21% depending on one's political alienation. This implies that even in the developed countries poverty still exists. Low economic status experienced by many people across the world leads to poor education as many cannot afford high cost of education in colleges and universities, hence a lot of people acquire the basic education and avoid the tertiary education (Brandy-Smith, Fauth, and Brooks-Gunn 1).

Low education level, on the other hand, propagates the continuation of poverty over the generations as low education level means poor employment and low income. In addition, learning institutions also experience the impact of poverty as the high cost of education would cause low annual registration of students as the cost increasingly becomes higher. It is, therefore, clear that poverty affects not only the living standards and lifestyle of people but also the college education in the United States of America.

Effects of poverty on college education

"Simple comparisons between children in poor families and children in non-poor families using national datasets indicate that poor children are more likely to do worse on indices of school achievement than non-poor children are" (Brandy-Smith, Fauth, and Brooks-Gunn 1). Besides, elementary schools in poverty-stricken areas of the United States do not have qualified school tutors, and therefore, the students who graduate from these schools are not qualified enough to join colleges.

Due to poverty, "teachers in city schools are less likely to be certified or to have studied in the areas that they teach, and more likely to leave before the end of the school year. In some years and for some subjects, it is hard to find any teachers at all to fill slots in urban schools" (Hochschild 1). Students with poor elementary background are not satisfactorily qualified to meet the professional challenges even after the college graduation.

Low annual registration of new students in colleges leads to a gradual collapse of college education and, therefore, denies citizens an important resource of breaking out of poverty. Because of poverty, even the few who are qualified to join colleges do not fully concentrate on studies due to lack of sustenance. With little or no food in their stomachs, students have little or no focus on studies, and it negatively affects the learning process in colleges.

A large number of students in the United States lack financial resources to cover high tuition fees, and therefore, most of them rely on education loans and scholarships. Education loans like any other loans require repayment with some interest after completion of one's education. The annual increment of tuition fees is between 5% and 8%, and this becomes increasingly difficult for parents and students to afford.

The education cost varies from one institution to another, especially from public to private colleges. Private colleges have a relatively higher education cost as compared to public colleges which depend on the government funding. The high education cost levied by the private colleges discourages students with poor background from enrolling in private colleges, and therefore, they opt to enrol in public colleges, thus causing overcrowding there.

Actually, MItchel, Fowler and Towle lament that learning conditions in inner-city schools have so poor facilities that "students share used textbooks and practice typing on handmade, fake keyboards" (Para1). This over stretching of the public college facilities reduces the quality of education offered as the increase of the number of students in class makes it difficult for the tutors to attend to each student's needs.

Poverty affecting college students makes them juggle between full time jobs and class schedules in order to make ends meet. Research shows that juggling between work and education greatly lowers one's performance, either in academics, at the place of work or both. In addition, juggling between education and work causes severe health problems, especially when such students do not get enough sleep as both tasks are time-consuming.

Moreover, poor parents cannot provide an appropriate diet necessary for their children's learning (Bainbridge and Lasley 1). Poor health status, on the other hand, leads to low concentration in class affecting academic performance, hence students may graduate without the required qualifications. Poverty contributes greatly to graduation of unqualified students as the rate of skipping lessons grows with increase in poverty. Poverty in the US kills college competitiveness of the academic programs; consequently the enrolment levels drastically reduce because of poor performance from secondary schools.

The reduction in program competitiveness deprives colleges of the privilege accompanying the prestige of the competitive course. This, therefore, kills the spirit of competition between the students in a particular course, which outrightly leads to poor performance in college. Colleges from a particular region, especially those stricken by poverty, may decide to lower the admission grades for a particular course program in order to accommodate the students of that region.

Lowering admission grades of one college can affect other colleges' enrolment as many students with relatively lower grades may decide to transfer to such colleges. This transfer indeed affects the enrolment in the colleges from which the students are transferring. Moreover, poverty related transfer of students might affect the student's academic performance as a person needs to take time to acclimatize to the new environment.

In the United States, different regions register different number of graduates depending on the poverty level of the regions. People from these areas have relatively less access to good college education as they lack financial resources to meet the college education cost. Statistics show that these areas registered the lowest number of college graduates in 2004 as compared to other states. The statistics below illustrate this fact (Crissey 8):

States percentages

  1. Mississippi 18,90%
  2. Alabama 21,40%
  3. Louisiana 20,40%
  4. Arkansas 19,30%
  5. District of Columbia 47,50%

According to Bishaw and Semega, high poverty levels characterize these regions (excluding the District of Columbia) (20). Thus, education is difficult to acquire, hence less college graduates. This results in increase in number of uneducated young people hence perpetuates the growth of poverty across the states.

Poverty affects education negatively and poses stress to both students and parents. In the United States, the economic background of citizens determines the college students attend. Families with poor economic background have their children attending local tertiary colleges while those with good economic background have their children attending national and international colleges where they graduate with relatively better qualifications.

In this sense, students from poor economic background have a higher chance to transform into poor adults than children from well up families. Mitchell and Houston attribute this to the fact that in the United States, rich families have the capacity to provide good college education to their children, which would mean good qualifications and hence descent employment (Para. 4). On the other hand, poor education due to poverty would lead to employment with meagre salaries.

Moreover, high poverty level affects the economic development of the United States as unqualified professionals graduating from colleges would have little knowledge in their fields that in turn results in poor performance in industries. Given that by 1993, there were roughly 13.4 million U.S. children living in poverty (Litcher 988); such a situation translates into economic downfall. In essence, economic progress depends largely on the professionalism of people working in different fields of the economy. Poor professionalism resulting from poverty can compel companies to invest into education of their staff, hence incurring more expenses.

Poverty among college students in the United States causes reduction of exposure of these students to the outside world. Attending educational tours, educational excursions and making educational trips help enlighten and open up the minds of college students. Unfortunately, because of poverty, most students in the aforementioned states cannot afford these programs.

Given that "poverty is the single largest factor determining a child's failure in school" (Zeitlin Para. 14), these students lag behind for they cannot afford such informative exposures. While the rich continue to enjoy the privileges of wealth, the poor remain suffering in the impoverished conditions with little or no external exposure. The benefits of these exposures help the students acclimatize to the job market after college education.


Although poverty is a state that many people would not want to find themselves in, it is still rampant in both developed and developing countries. Poverty poses a threat not only to the economic, social and political aspects of life, but also to education as a major requirement for sustenance. In the United States, poverty negatively affects college education as it causes a great reduction of the students' enrolment.

Moreover, poverty-stricken students miss numerous classes because of lack of fees. As a result, it influences their grades greatly leading to unqualified graduates. On the other hand, because of lack of finances, some elementary schools cannot sustain enough qualified teachers. This may also lead to poor grades as the available tutors might fail to meet students' needs, and in the end, the students fail to secure admission to various colleges.

To overcome this problem, people decide to juggle between work and study to cater for both their basic and educational needs. People living below the poverty level in the United States can offer a lower college education to their children as compared to those living above the poverty level. Poverty impairs good education in the US, and this also affects other aspects of life.

Works Cited

  • Bainbridge, William, and Thomas Lasley. "Poverty not Race Holds Back Urban Students." Schoolmatch.com. School Match. 28 July 2002. Web. 14 June 2011.http://schoolmatch.com/articles/poverty.htm;
  • Bishaw, Alemayehu and Jessica Semega. Income, Earnings, and Poverty Data From the 2007 American Community Survey, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2008 Web. 14 June 2011 ;http://www.census.gov/prod/2008pubs/acs-09.pdf;
  • Brandy-Smith, Christy, Rebecca Fauth, and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn. Poverty and Education - Overview, Children, and Adolescents, Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.com 2011. Web. 14 June 2011. ;http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/2330/Poverty-Education.html;
  • Crissey, Sarah R. Educational Attainment in the United States: 2007. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2009. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2008 Web. 14 June 2011 ;http://www.census.gov/prod/2009pubs/p20-560.pdf;.
  • Hochschild, L. Janifer. "Social Class in Public Schools". Journal of Social Issues. 59.4 (2003) :821-840. Web. 14 June 2011. ;http://scholar.harvard.edu/jlhochschild/publications/social-class-public-schools;
  • Litcher, Daniel. "Reviewed work(s): Children in Poverty: Child Development and Public
    Policy by Aletha C. Huston." American Journal of Sociology 98.4 (1993): 988.
    Web. 14 June 2011. ;http://www.jstor.org/pss/2781277;
  • Mitchell, Emily, Deborah Fowler, and Lisa H. Towle. "Do the Poor Deserve Bad Schools?" Time, 14 October 1991. Web. 14 June 2011.
  • Zeitlin, Janine. "Poverty hinders education". News-press.com. A Gannet company. 14 Sep. 2010. Web. 14 June 2011.

Cite this Page

Effects of Poverty on College Education in the USA. (2018, Aug 27). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/effects-of-poverty-on-college-education-in-the-usa/

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