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Reports from Policy Analysts

What Happens to Low-Income Students in CT?

Submitted On: Friday, March 17, 2017

Analyst: Ferruci, Stephen

In Connecticut, roughly 350,000 individuals (10% of the total population) over the age of three lived in poverty in 2014. Of those, nearly 22,000 (.6%) were enrolled in some form or another in college. For comparison, over three million were over the poverty line, and of those 140,000 (4.2%) were enrolled in college[1]. In 2013, 73% of all graduating high school students enrolled in college right after graduation. In that same year, only 56% of economically disadvantaged recent high school graduates enrolled in college of any sort (80% of those not from economically disadvantaged families did so)[2]. Retention and persistence are also impacted by income level. In 2012, the one-year retention rate from first to second year in college was just 27% for the economically disadvantaged versus 91% for those advantaged. Worse, of those who entered college in 2008, only 19% earned a degree within 6 years[3]. At the four state public universities, the difference in 6 year graduation rates between Pell and non-Pell students was around 7%[4].

So what does Connecticut do to support these students? The short answer is not enough. In addition to Pell and SEOG grants, Connecticut residents who meet the criteria can apply for the Roberta B. Willis Scholarship Need-Based Award which provides a grant of up to $4500. Low income minority students who also want to go into teaching can apply for the CT Minority Teacher Incentive Grant once they have committed to a teacher education program (this becomes a loan if they later choose to not teach). Beyond that, students have access to scholarships particular to the college they apply to, and they can apply for state and federal loans.

What this means in real terms is that low-income students graduate from Connecticut colleges and universities with substantial debt. Among the four state universities and the University of Connecticut, approximately 35% of the student body receives Pell grants, and the average debt for Pell recipients after graduation is about $19,000. Perhaps not surprisingly, the percentage of Pell grant recipients who default on their loans is about 45% for the four state schools and 28% at UCONN. At the twelve community colleges, roughly 45% of students receive Pell awards, and the average debt after graduation is approximately $4000. The “nonrepayment rate” of Pell recipients is well above fifty percent, on average[5].

To its credit, Connecticut lawmakers passed the Student Loan Bill of Rights in 2015, which establishes a process by which student loans, loaning institutions, and loan processes are governed (Public Act 15-162[6]); the bill established the Office of Student Loan Ombudsmand, which also educates students and parents on the loan process. This was reportedly the first in the nation[7].

[1] U.S. Census Bureau (2015). Poverty Status in the Past 12 Months by School Enrollment by Level of School for the Population 3 Years and Over American Community Survey 1-year estimates. Retrieved from <>

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