What is Giving Compass?
We connect donors to learning resources and ways to support community-led solutions. Learn more about us.
You might think the typical college student lives in a state of bliss, spending each day moving among classes, parties and extracurricular activities. But the reality is that an increasingly small population of undergraduates enjoys that kind of life.
Of the country’s nearly 18 million undergraduates, more than 40 percent go to community college, and of those, only 62 percent can afford to go to college full-time. By contrast, a mere 0.4 percent of students in the United States attend one of the Ivies.
The typical student is not the one burnishing a fancy résumé with numerous unpaid internships. It’s just the opposite: Over half of all undergraduates live at home to make their degrees more affordable, and a shocking 40 percent of students work at least 30 hours a week. About 25 percent work full-time and go to school full-time.
The typical college student is also not fresh out of high school. A quarter of undergraduates are older than 25, and about the same number are single parents.
These students work extremely hard to make ends meet and simultaneously get the education they need to be more stable: A two-year degree can earn students nearly 20 percent more annually than just a high school diploma.
And yet, these students are often the most shortchanged.
As open-access institutions, community colleges educate the majority of our country’s low-income, first-generation students. But public funding for community colleges is significantly less than for four-year colleges, sometimes because of explicit state policies. This means the amount that community colleges can spend on each student — to pay for faculty, support services, tutoring and facilities — is far less as well.
Tuition for low-income students can be covered by federal financial aid programs, but these students often have significant other costs — including housing, transportation, food and child care — that regularly pose obstacles to their education.
Community colleges need increased funding, and students need access to more flexible federal and state financial aid, enhanced paid internships and college work-study programs. Improved access to public supports, like food stamps and reduced public transportation fares, would also make a world of difference.
It’s not just that policy must change. Last year, more than $41 billion was given in charity to higher education, but about a quarter of that went to just 20 institutions. Community colleges, with almost half of all undergraduate students, received just a small fraction of this philanthropy. It is imperative that individuals, corporations and foundations spread their wealth and diversify where they donate their dollars.