Financially Independent Students: The “New Majority” in College - Higher Education
Higher Education News and Jobs

Financially Independent Students: The “New Majority” in College


A new majority of college students are more independent than students in previous years, according to a report released today.

The Institute For Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) has released a new briefing paper that indicates that college students are now more likely than not to be financially independent from their parents. A majority of this emerging demographic of students tends to be women and students of color.

Report findings shed light on shifting demographics at higher education institutions across the country, highlighting a subtle move from the “conventional” dependent student – “the 18 to 23-year-old student entering college directly from high school with the financial support of their parents,” according to the report. 

Key findings in the report reveal that 55 percent of students of color are independent compared to 49 percent of their White peers. Regarding gender, 55 percent of women in college are independent as opposed to 46 percent of men.

As access to post-secondary education increases and some people return for degrees or certificates, IWPR researchers found that roughly half of independent college students – 4.8 million students – are parents of dependent children. Report findings also showed that two-thirds of independent students simultaneously work and attend school with a majority of students working at least 20 hours on top of coursework.

Further, independent student are twice as likely to be living in poverty, with 42 percent of independent students living at or below the federal poverty line compared to 17 percent of dependent students.

Independent students, additionally, are four times as likely as dependent students to attend for-profit colleges. Currently, 20 percent of independent students are enrolled in for-profit institutions compared to only 5 percent of dependent students.

Completion rates for independent students are also significantly lower than for dependent students, the report indicated. Only one in three independent students receives a degree or certificate, while more than half of their dependent peers do.

IWPR researchers’ findings throughout the briefing encourage higher education policymakers to keep in mind the realities that independent students live with such as having financial, work and family responsibilities combined with their educational opportunities. The report also reiterates the importance of educational and institutional policies that better target and support low-income students, students of color and non-traditional students to improve college access and completion for all.

Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.

Report Highlights Why Minority Adults in California Leave College Before Earning Degree Four million, or 5 percent of adults living in California aged 25-64 have left the state’s colleges and universities due to financial barriers, personal obligations and institutional roadblocks according to a new report. The report titled “Back to...
Education Scholar Pushes Boundaries Ever since he was a teenager, Dr. Lawrence Scott has lived by the motto that “success is measured in succession.” “I’m the first in my family to go to college or a university, first to graduate and first to get a terminal degree,” says Scott, an a...
Gender Pay Gap Wide Among Graduates of Elite Schools The gender wage gap is real – even when looking at pay differences between men and women who graduate from America’s leading colleges and universities. That’s the finding of, which recently announced results of a study it did o...
Single Moms with College Degrees Less Likely to Experience Poverty A new report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) this week adds to the institute’s ongoing research on the “life-changing” impact of earning a postsecondary degree for single mothers. IWPR’s findings show that, in 2016 – the year...
Semantic Tags: