All California students pursuing higher education and career pathways should have access to an affordable education and the ability to achieve economic security. And California offers many postsecondary institutions for students to pursue their goals, including colleges, universities, community colleges, and trade schools. Yet, high costs of higher education and career training programs, along with economic hardship exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many students to cancel their education and career training plans. This is hitting students from households with low incomes the hardest. 1“Households with low incomes” are defined as households with annual income of less than $50,000. State policymakers can support students in building their education and careers by making education affordable and addressing costs of basic needs so California’s communities are home to thriving students, families, and workforces.
Since the beginning of the 2021-22 academic year, more than 1 in 5 households with low incomes included at least one prospective student who canceled all plans to take classes from a postsecondary institution due to impacts of the pandemic (23%).2The US Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey defines postsecondary institutions as colleges, universities, community colleges, trade schools, or other occupational schools. Students living in households with low incomes were more likely to cancel their education plans than California households overall (18%) and compared to households with higher incomes (14%). Students in Black and Latinx households also canceled education plans at higher proportions than all households (24% and 19%, respectively).
There are various reasons why students canceled their postsecondary education plans, but financial stress is a key factor. Of those California households where at least one member canceled all plans for postsecondary education, 41% did so because they were unable to pay for educational expenses due to pandemic-related changes to income and 45% of households with low incomes canceled for the same reason.3Survey respondents were able to select various reasons why plans to take classes were canceled, including being unable to pay for educational expenses, having COVID-19 or having concerns about the virus, uncertainty about how classes or programs would change, among others. Respondents could choose more than one reason for canceling plans.
The high costs of postsecondary education are a major barrier for students with low incomes to stay enrolled and complete their coursework. At a time when California households with low incomes are much more likely to be struggling to meet basic needs, policymakers should ensure that Californians with low incomes seeking postsecondary degrees and certificates have the financial support necessary to complete their programs, provide for themselves and their households, and build their lives across the state’s diverse communities.
Support for this report was provided by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.