Financially Independent Students: The “New Majority” in College

A new majority of college students are more independent than students in previous years, according to a report released today.

The Institute For Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) has released a new briefing paper that indicates that college students are now more likely than not to be financially independent from their parents. A majority of this emerging demographic of students tends to be women and students of color.

Report findings shed light on shifting demographics at higher education institutions across the country, highlighting a subtle move from the “conventional” dependent student – “the 18 to 23-year-old student entering college directly from high school with the financial support of their parents,” according to the report.

Key findings in the report reveal that 55 percent of students of color are independent compared to 49 percent of their White peers. Regarding gender, 55 percent of women in college are independent as opposed to 46 percent of men.

As access to post-secondary education increases and some people return for degrees or certificates, IWPR researchers found that roughly half of independent college students – 4.8 million students – are parents of dependent children. Report findings also showed that two-thirds of independent students simultaneously work and attend school with a majority of students working at least 20 hours on top of coursework.

Further, independent student are twice as likely to be living in poverty, with 42 percent of independent students living at or below the federal poverty line compared to 17 percent of dependent students.

Independent students, additionally, are four times as likely as dependent students to attend for-profit colleges. Currently, 20 percent of independent students are enrolled in for-profit institutions compared to only 5 percent of dependent students.

Completion rates for independent students are also significantly lower than for dependent students, the report indicated. Only one in three independent students receives a degree or certificate, while more than half of their dependent peers do.

IWPR researchers’ findings throughout the briefing encourage higher education policymakers to keep in mind the realities that independent students live with such as having financial, work and family responsibilities combined with their educational opportunities. The report also reiterates the importance of educational and institutional policies that better target and support low-income students, students of color and non-traditional students to improve college access and completion for all.

Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.

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