Colleges and Universities often portray themselves as the pathway toward upward financial mobility; toward what we know as the “American Dream.”
While this is largely true, this picture ignores the reality that low-income students often have a harder time focusing on their school work and in some cases can even fail to graduate because of financial pressures that are placed on them.
According to a survey conducted by researchers at Temple University and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab entitled “Still Hungry and Homeless in College”, 36 percent of students say that they are food insecure, another 36 percent say that they are housing insecure, and 9 percent report being homeless altogether.
While the participants in the survey were not random due to the survey being sent online to a school’s entire undergraduate population and there are some concerns about the accuracy of the survey as a result, the broader picture is that financial difficulties can lead to poorer academic performance, which in turn can lead to students failing to graduate.
The list of expenses students have to face are going to be pretty familiar to the readers of this article. Students have to pay for food, student loan payments, utilities and rent if a student is living off campus, and more. In an article for Vox entitled, “The subtle ways colleges discriminate against poor students, explained with a cartoon,” Alvin Chang points out that only nine percent of the lowest income of students who were born from 1979 to 1982, actually graduated college. Compared to 54 percent of the highest income students.
Along with this, Judith Scott-Clayton and Rachel Yang Zhou document in their policy brief, titled “Does the Federal Work-Study Program Really Work—and for Whom?” that while working during school can have long term benefits, it does negatively impact grades during school. They find that students who participate in the work-study program can have a GPA that is anywhere from 0.02 to 0.06 points lower than they would otherwise.
While the overall results of the program are positive, the juggling of a job with a student’s course load can be challenging for many students.
At Keene State College, this is a rarer sight. The New York Times recently made a tool entitled “Economic Diversity and Student Outcomes at America’s Colleges and Universities: Find Your College”. In it, they document that the average household income for students at Keene State is $109,500 and 50 percent of Keene State student come from families in the top 50 percent of U.S income distribution (compared to only 2.7 percent from the bottom 2 percent of the same measure).
On top of this, the opening of the Hungry Owl food pantry, located in the back of Randall Hall, means that Keene State students do not have to go hungry. Whether it be that they had to pay for a textbook or something similar, they won’t have to worry about finding their next meal.
Naturally, all of this means that this issue is less of a problem than it would be elsewhere. However, for the low-income students attending the school, the challenges are still severe. Given that, it’s worth discussing ways the college can alleviate this problem.
In an article for The Atlantic entitled, “Colleges are no match for American Poverty,” Amarillo College’s Russell Lowery-Hart talks about the efforts his school took to combat student poverty. One of the more effective measures was an “Emergency Fund’ for low-income students that can, “cut a check within hours to cover the car-repair or water bill that could push a student to drop a class—or quit school for good”.
While students do need to provide a bill or receipt to prove that the expense is legitimate, the program is incredibly effective at quickly providing some cash when students need it the most.
The program isn’t particularly expensive either; Amarillo’s cost $60,000 in the Fall of 2017 with just over 10,000 students attending the school in total.
Despite The Atlantic’s article casting doubt on the effectiveness of many of the schools programs, researchers for the aforementioned Wisconsin HOPE lab write in their report, “Supporting Community College Completion with a Culture of Caring: A Case Study of Amarillo College” that “AC’s No Excuses fund is administered with little fuss and appears to achieve its goal of helping students without burdening them in the process.”
If KSC was to look into this program, our budget would be high on the list of concerns. Given the schools financial difficulties in recent years, this is completely understandable.
However, if Keene State College is serious about its commitment to low-income students, it needs to seriously consider what it can do about student poverty.
Ryan Meehan can be contacted at