On the Fast Track to Adulthood With Limited Options

On the Fast Track to Adulthood With Limited Options

Low-income students don’t have the luxury of meandering through college.

By Emily Deruy
Originally Published by The Atlantic
Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters


The urgency to become an “adult” combined with a limited menu of higher-education options can seriously derail young people from poor neighborhoods who are looking for opportunities to succeed.

In a report published this month, The Century Foundation takes a look at the cycle of poverty that Baltimore’s young people often find themselves in and offers recommendations for how cities and lawmakers might begin to break some of the challenges they face. While the report, by Stefanie A. DeLuca and Susan Clampet-Lundquist, touches on everything from housing vouchers to mentorship, the role that some postsecondary schools seem to play in exacerbating inequalities is particularly interesting. The researchers found that many of the low-income Baltimore-area young people they have been following for nearly a decade gravitated toward for-profit colleges or trade schools when they decided to continue their education after high school. These schools tended to have lower graduation rates and higher student-loan default rates than local four-year universities.

So why did these kids apply? The authors identified several reasons, including the idea that the path to a four-year degree is too long, expensive, and uncertain. Students tended to make decisions based on whether a particular study track was linked to a concrete occupation. For-profit schools and trade schools (which generally offer training for specific jobs) have done a good job of marketing their programs with this in mind, while four-year universities have spent more time emphasizing a well-rounded education, something these students don’t always see as a wise investment of their time and resources. “They don’t have the luxury of trying to explore their interests in college like their middle-class counterparts,” DeLuca said.

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