NC Budget and Tax Center, Poverty and Policy Matters

Education pipeline favors students from affluent families, not low-income students

At a time when ensuring that all students receive a quality education is more important than ever, students from low-income families are increasingly less likely to experience academic success and educational opportunities than their affluent peers. In fact, students from affluent families are 10 times more likely to graduate from high school and go on to earn a college degree by age 24 compared to students from low-income families.

This skewed outcome alone is startling, but what it projects for North Carolina’s future is even more troubling. With an increasing number of jobs in the state, and nationally, expected to require some level of postsecondary education, we need more of our students from low-income families – who now represent a majority of students in our public schools – graduating from high school and going on to earn a postsecondary credential.

The United States is one of the few advanced nations where more educational resources tend to flow to schools serving better-off children than schools serving poor students, a recent New York Times article highlights. In North Carolina, the concentration of low-income students is not confined to particular areas in the state. Nearly three out of every four public schools serving grades Pre-K through 8 educated a majority of students from low-income families during the 2011-12 school year, and the majority of students in more than half of the state’s public high schools were from low-income families.  And yet, the New York Times article highlights that North Carolina is among a select group of states in which high-poverty schools receive significantly fewer education dollars compared to schools with lower levels of poverty.

The implications of an education pipeline that affords fewer educational resources and opportunities to poor students extend beyond K-12 education and into higher education. Many colleges and universities have adopted financial aid practices that are designed to compete for students from affluent families, with a lesser focus on helping make college more affordable for low-income students, research by the New America Foundation (NAF) finds. As states, including North Carolina, have cut funding for higher education and students and families must shoulder more and more of increasing college costs, the NAF report highlights that colleges are directing their financial aid dollars toward students from families that can afford to pay for their college education and who would likely still attend college in the absence of the financial aid provided by institutions.

Efforts must be made by policymakers and educational leaders – at the K-12 and postsecondary education levels – to ensure that equitable and quality educational opportunities exist for all students regardless of economic background. At the K-12 education level, adequate funding and targeting education dollars to where they are needed most helps boost student outcomes. Colleges can play a meaningful role, in part, by re-orienting their financial aid policies so that making college more affordable for low-income students is a priority. Success or failure in meeting this challenge will directly impact the economic prospects for North Carolina and the nation overall. The stakes are high.


  1. GOP Rules

    November 13, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    I am not sure this holds much water that outcomes are related primarily to poverty. Having lived and gone to school in several school districts in the late 90’s as well as my kids having gone to a couple of schools in diverse districts I have found it is more the emphasis that a parent puts on education and whether they follow up with the kids. I have seen plenty of “well off” kids that fail and from the opposite view schools where they are not well off are doing well. It needs to be accepted that some are not going to value education, while others do. What we need to do is offer some kind of training that is not totally academic because society is currently hurting due to overloaded college degrees and too few tradesmen, or tradeswomen.

  2. Alan

    November 13, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    GOP Rules…. have you completely lost your mind???? This must be the 1st post you have made that I can actually agree with! I concur100% with the over emphasis on 4 year college degrees, not every person is equipped, or even wants, to attend a 4 year college, for various reasons. The lack of vocational training to support the skilled trades is quite appalling.

  3. Sandi Campbell

    November 14, 2013 at 7:52 am

    Yes, parents should/must value education in order to instill that in their kids. However, poverty tilts the playing field against the poor in various ways. The working poor have fewer resources to provide their kids with the kinds of enrichment activities the wealthier families can provide. Yes, libraries are free, so books don’t have to be purchased, and there are museums with free admission, assuming you have the time and gas money to take your kids to them. Hard to do if you’re working two low-paying jobs and juggling how you’re even going to find time to help with homework. The rich kid gets summer camp and tutoring, the poor kid gets the neighborhood streets and unsupervised TV. The rich kid gets good nutrition, the poor kid’s diet may be hit and miss,and on and on it goes. And that is even before they hit the schoolroom door, that, in poor districts are NOT as well equipped as they are in more affluent districts.

  4. GOP Rules

    November 14, 2013 at 10:46 am

    Well Alan/ML, I guess a liberal progressive can have a conservative view on something. It would be nice to see some advocacy for this, you know Gov Pat and the legislature made some strides toward this very view in the past legislative session. Hopefully the trades will come back in vogue as the nation sees they are sorely needed, and that you can make a very good living without incurring $50,000+ of college debt in order to flunk out.

  5. GOP Rules

    November 14, 2013 at 10:54 am

    Sandi, it is not all about “enrichment activities”. Maybe sitting down and helping with homework, monitoring the educational situation, you know actually being a parent and paying attention to your kid. My experience shows that just paying attention, placing an emphais on education, and encouraging goes a long way if that is all you can do.

    As far as your rich kid/poor kid comparison. If there is a will there is a way. The so called “poor” in this country would be considered rich in the vast majoriy of the world, even where we are supposedly losing out in the comparison reports you always see. If a kid is given this free education, with a free lunch they are a leg up on many students in other parts of the world. The main problem seems to be the attitude being passed down by parents, and to the culture of fathers abandoning their children among some demographics. The kids just don’t get the emphaisis from the parents because the welfare system is there to bail them out.

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