Education Projects

Poverty is complex. It’s been said that education is the greatest equalizer for people in poverty and we agree. But this demands more research on how to improve educational outcomes at all stages, across the spectrum of one’s life—from what occurs during the earliest formative years of brain development, to kindergarten readiness, on-grade elementary school learning, high school completion, and post-secondary degree attainment.

We know clearly today that people in poverty have worse educational outcomes than their non-poor peers, cementing their position in poverty throughout their lives. We must find effective ways to increase educational outcomes for those struggling in poverty, and shine a light on the path to a different life.  

In its 2016 report The Condition of Education, the National Center for Education Statistics attributed living in poverty during early childhood, in part, to lower levels of academic performance. These early years are critical to educational success. Influential empirical work has established the early emergence of achievement gaps by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Evidence consistently demonstrates that these gaps are already present at kindergarten entry and that they persist throughout the schooling years. Low-income students repeat grades at a rate of 28.8% percent compared to just 14.1% percent of students from higher-income families. These achievement gaps impact a young person’s ability to pursue higher education after high school.   

This ability to earn a college degree matters because education is linked to future earnings. Community colleges are an important part of the higher education landscape in the United States, but completion rates are extremely low, especially among low-income students. Less than 40% of students who begin community college graduate or transfer to a four-year institution within six semesters. 

Much of the existing policy and research attention on the issue of college completion focuses on addressing academic and financial challenges. However, there is ample reason to think that non-academic obstacles might be the key drivers of dropout rates for students living with the burden of poverty.

Education may be the greatest equalizer, but in light of the current school achievement gaps for low-income students, we still have many questions about how to help people in poverty realize that promise. How do we help children get ready for kindergarten? What interventions are proven to achieve key childhood outcomes? How do we ensure that high school graduates go on to get the skills and education that are necessary for success in a 21st-century job market? How do we make sure that the importance of higher education doesn’t get lost in the maze of a young adult’s struggle in poverty?

We took a close look at the landscape of college completion in the U.S. to write our Comprehensive Approaches To Increasing Student Completion In Higher Education research paper. Now, we are working with partners across the United States to find answers to the questions that remain and shed more light on how to reduce poverty through evidence-based programs and policies. Learn with us.