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Census: College Students Can Skew Poverty Statistics

Remember all those jokes (memories?) of being a broke undergraduate student, living with six other people and eating ramen noodles for dinner every night? It turns out there's quite a bit of truth to the stereotype: A new report by the U.S. Census Bureau finds that large groups of college students living off campus can significantly weight the poverty characteristics of their communities.

The report, "Examining the Effect of Off-Campus College Students on Poverty Rates," finds that from 2009-2011, there were 23.2 million students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate degree programs nationwide, most living either on the university campus or with family. A quarter of college students, however, lived on their own off-campus, and just more than half of these had income below the federal poverty level.

Overall, struggling college students don't make up a significant portion of America's poor, but in communities with heavy concentration of universities they can weight poverty results significantly, the Census analysts found. For example, without counting student poverty, 49 cities of more than 100,000 people saw significant drops in poverty, including:

• Poverty in Gainesville, Fla., home of the University of Florida, dropped 15.5 percentage points, to 19.7 percent.
• Poverty in Ann Arbor, Mich., home of the University of Michigan and others, dropped 10.5 percentage points, to 10 percent
• Poverty in Austin, Texas, home to the University of Texas at Austin, dropped 2.5 percentage points, to 17.1 percent.

The analysis is an interesting read, highlighting the need for those planning interventions to relieve poverty to look more closely at struggles of young people. It also suggests another dimension to the discussion about whether high school students are ready to transition into college: financial self-sufficiency.

Want more research news? Follow @SarahDSparks on Twitter for the latest studies, and join the conversation.

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