Blog Action Day 2008: College Education is a Weapon Against Poverty

According to the U.S. Department of Education, one of the biggest factors impacting whether an individual will live in poverty is a college education.  According to data from 2003, people with four year degrees had a poverty rate of only about 1.6 percent, while people with two year degrees had a poverty rate of about 2.8 percent.  In contrast, high school graduates had a poverty rate of about 6 percent, while high school dropouts had a poverty rate of about 14 percent. No, education is not the only factor in predicting poverty — race, gender, and parenthood also are important factors — but education level is one crucial factor in determining whether someone will live in poverty.

This is in part because of the changing economy. In the post-war years, manufacturing jobs were abundant, and an individual could easily graduate from high school, or not, and get a good-paying job in an auto plant or other manufacturing area.  Workers could expect to earn enough money to raise a family and have a comfortable, if not wealthy, standard of living, often on just one income.  With manufacturing jobs dwindling and moving oversees, that’s no longer the case.

Since the link between a college education and poverty isn’t exactly a secret, it’s disturbing to me that social programs designed to get people out of poverty don’t help people more with getting a college degree.  For example, a study by a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis strongly recommended that programs designed to help women with children out of poverty put more emphasis on women completing a college education.  These programs primarily are designed to help women get work, but would be more economically beneficial to women in the long run if they helped women postpone work temporarily while they completed their education.  This may include extended welfare benefits for a few years while a woman finishes college — a short term investment with life changing results.

In addition, the link between poverty and a college education should be a red flag that illustrates the need to make college affordable for everyone.  If people don’t go to college because they grew up in a poor family, the cycle will never be broken, right?

As a former professor, another thing I think is crucially important is to make sure that people are more ready for college academically.  Many students, who are not really qualified to be there academically, do find their way to college because they know it’s an economic necessity — and many of these students either don’t make it through college, or manage to graduate without really having the skills needed to succeed in the competitive workplace.  High schools need to make sure that students are graduating with strong enough writing, reading comprehension, math, and problem solving skills to excel in college.

Clearly, a link exists between poverty and college education.  As we choose elected officials, we need to be acutely aware of this link and the importance of choosing policies that help make college affordable and realistic to all students.

Blog Action Day is an annual event uniting bloggers from across the Web to discuss one very important topic. This year, the selected topic is poverty. is proud to be one of more than 11,000 blogs raising awareness.

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