Low-income students and college attendance: An exploration of income expectations

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Some have hypothesized that unrealistic expectations regarding their futures may explain the weak link between expectations and realizations among low-income (particularly minority) youth. Unfortunately, there is little evidence characterizing students' expectations around the time that they make college decisions that would allow one to study this hypothesis. Methods. In this exploratory article, I analyze data on income expectations from a small sample of low-income minority high school seniors in Baltimore City, MD; and use data from Dominitz and Manski's sample of higher-income white students in Madison, WI, and the NELS88 for comparisons. Results. I find little evidence that the income expectations of lower-income minority students are so different from those of higher-income students. Rather, the expected returns to postsecondary education appear similar between the two samples of high school seniors. Analysis of a nationally representative sample of high school seniors suggests that lower-income students do not place less weight on expected economic returns to college when making their plans than do more advantaged students, although low-income students are less able to translate their college plans into actual college attendance. Conclusions. These results suggest that differing income expectations do not explain the weaker relationship between expectations and educational attainment among low-income students.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1299-1317
Number of pages19
JournalSocial Science Quarterly
Issue number5 SPEC. ISS.
StatePublished - Dec 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


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