Even though more of today's young adults are motivated to seek a postsecondary education, too many of them are sidelined by the financial burden of paying for school while meeting their other financial obligations. This report argues that to increase postsecondary success among low- to moderate-income students, we must reform financial aid and provide additional financial supports to help students cover the cost of living expenses (especially housing and transportation) so that young students can work less, study more, and finish their degrees.  

Top Facts

  • In the last 25 years, college costs have increased more than 400 percent, while median family income increased less than 150 percent. Not only has financial aid has not kept pace with the rise in costs, it has shifted away from awards based on financial need to loans and merit-based aid.
  • Even after accounting for all financial sources, full-time, full-year community college students from families with the lowest incomes averaged $6,544 of unmet need per year; students from the lower middle income quartile had an average unmet need of nearly $5,000.
  • To make up for financial shortfalls, 66 percent of young community college students work more than 20 hours per week and 58 percent enroll only part time.
  • Surveys of students who have left college without earning a credential routinely cite employment and finances as the main reasons for student departure.  One study found that nearly 40 percent of students who worked full time while enrolled dropped out within three years, compared to 19 percent of students who worked part time and 13 percent who did not work.
  • Part-time enrollment appears to increase the risk of departure even more than employment—after controlling for other factors, 51 percent of students who enrolled part time left by the end of three years without a credential compared to 14 percent of students who initially enrolled full time.