The unseen reason working-class students drop out


We’ve figured out why it’s so hard for first-generation students to succeed in college. The good news is there are easy fixes.

It’s one of the most frustrating facts in education: Compared with peers from middle- and upper-class families, students from working-class families—those who are low-income or the first in their families to attend college—struggle to achieve in college. Even the most highly qualified working-class students receive lower GPAs and drop out more often than their middle- and upper-class peers. Since education is a powerful engine of social mobility, this persistent achievement gap means that the American dream remains out of reach for far too many working-class students.

What’s going on? To explain these dismal outcomes, policymakers often point to what working-class students lack. Many face real obstacles in terms of academic skills such as writing or math, and may need additional tutoring because they attended low quality high schools. Many also struggle with meeting their basic needs while in school: Recent surveys have found that 9 percent of college students in the U.S. do not have reliable housing, and, remarkably, half report anxiety about getting enough food.

Yet even when universities address these challenges, social class achievement gaps persist. As one survey found, even if you take prior academic preparation into account, you’ll still see achievement gaps. Similarly prepared students from different… (continue reading)