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Working with Low Income Students


Students from low-income families typically need substantial financial assistance to be able to attend college. Low-income students are defined as those whose family income was below 125% of the federally established poverty level for their family size.

National Research Says:

  • Approximately 50% of students from high income families will have a four-year college degree by age 25; only 10% of students from low-income families will have a college degree by the same age.
  • Besides money, the largest hurdle that low-income students face is an overall lack of resources.
  • Low-income students are unlikely to have personal or professional mentors to guide them through the challenges of higher education.
  • Low-income students are also less likely to have family support in choosing the right college, completing financial aid forms, or even regular visits once they get to school.
  • Campus studies suggest that as many as 59% of students experience food insecurity at some point in their college careers.
  • 40% of college students work 30 or more hours a week.

Research Often Forgets to Mention:

  • Many low-income students may feel high pressure to succeed in college. This pressure can stem from the student knowing they have to do well to get a high paying job and help support their family; the pressure to be the first in the family to graduate from college can also be an added stressor.
  • Low-income students often face social isolation on campus due to having to work extra jobs, or not being able to afford off-campus activities.

Supporting Low-Income Students:

  • Promote campus and community resources that support low-income students (e.g. Jack’s Cupboard, TRIO SSS, Brookings Food Bank, etc.)
  • Attempt to have textbooks available for students in the library; take into consideration that some students are unable to purchase textbooks until their financial aid refund arrives
  • Encourage students to seek paid internships
  • Build relationships to help students feel seen

Things to Avoid:

  • Unnecessary or unused required classroom materials
  • Assuming socioeconomic class of any student
  • Ignoring that students may have outside jobs or other responsibilities
  • Being inflexible to situations that may arise

The more you know:

Working with Low-Income Students