January 24, 2022
College typically pays off for low-income students, but not as much as it does for their peers. Low-income students, whose families earn $30,000 or less per year, comprise more than one-third of college students. The Colleges Where Low-Income Students Get the Highest ROI finds that low-income students have a lower return on investment (ROI) than all students, largely because they tend to earn less as adults. This holds true across public and private institutions and certificates, associate's degrees, and bachelor's degrees. Among institutions that primarily award bachelor's degrees, public institutions generally lead to the highest ROI for low-income students during a 40-year timeframe ($951,000), followed by private nonprofit institutions ($863,000) and for-profit colleges ($763,000). The ROI for low-income students follows a similar pattern at colleges that primarily grant associate's degrees and certificates, with the highest returns from public institutions, followed by private nonprofit and for-profit institutions. However, low-income students' returns from associate's degrees can exceed $1 million, and certificates can be just as lucrative, depending on which college a student attends.