Welfare and Graduation Rates
August 1, 2010
Research in determining if welfare affects high school graduation has led to some very staggering numbers. In the past, we have learned that, generally speaking, being on welfare poses a variety of problems and that it does or can effect a child’s education. There have been past studies that seem to prove this hypothesis and some that are inconclusive. Different variables in studies seem to continually pose a problem; cyclical welfare versus families on welfare consistently is just one of the problems. Team A is trying to determine if the research proves conclusive and what can be learned from it.
Welfare and Graduation Rates
Data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) indicate that 13.8% of a student who is on welfare have overlapping college enrollment (Table 1).
When restricted to students who have completed high school or a GED, NLSY data show that 17.0 % of students on welfare are associated with college enrollment.
Because the unit of analysis examined is regarding, there is the possibility that students may have more than one period of time where they are on welfare in order to make ends meet. As has been documented previously in the past, many welfare recipients cycle in and out of welfare receipt, resulting in multiple periods over time (Bane & Ellwood, 1983 Ellwood, 1986).
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As is shown in Table 2, more than half (56.9%) the welfare recipients in the NLSY have more than one welfare spell during the period examined.
These same students, while attending college, also tend to do so in spells. A majority (53.9 %) of those who attend college also experience more than one college spell during the period. However, in looking at overlapping college and welfare spells, multiple spells is less common. The majority of students who go to college while on aid do so only once (68.3%).
From Table 2, it is also clear that welfare recipients who attend college do so both while receiving aid and also while not receiving. Only slightly more than half of college spells for this population overlap with periods of welfare receipt.
Enrolling in college is one indicator of potential future success, but graduation may be an even better predictor. In 1990, midway through the NLSY panel, the United States college graduation rate was 48%, indicating that just under half of all entering first year college students are graduated within a year of their target graduation date (ACT, 2000).
Graduation rates for welfare recipients, using a more generous definition, are substantially below this level. As is shown in Table 3, just 36 % of welfare recipients who attend college graduate at any time during the 20-year panel of the NLSY. In comparison, the NLSY sample shows that 55% of people who attend college and do not receive welfare graduate during the 20 years of the NLSY panel.
One argument used by opponents of allowing college education among welfare recipients is that it will artificially lengthen welfare spells as students remain on aid merely to complete a degree. The data shows, however; that the majority of welfare recipients do not use time on welfare to graduate. Only 16 % of student welfare recipients graduate from college while still receiving aid or in the two months following exit. 20% graduate during a period when they are not receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC).
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Of those who graduate, welfare recipients are far more likely to obtain an Associate’s Degree (as compared to Bachelor’s or higher degrees) than those who do not receive welfare. 59% of college/welfare students who graduate complete an Associate’s Degree, compared to 20 % of non-welfare graduating from college in the NLSY.
Policymakers are more concerned with assisting welfare recipients to become self-sufficient.
This study examines three measures of self-sufficiency to study post-welfare outcomes: welfare recidivism, post-welfare employment, and post-welfare poverty. All measures are examined one- year and five years following the end of a welfare spell.
Tabulations indicate substantial returns to college attendance for welfare recipients. For all measures examined in Table 4, welfare recipients who attend college while on aid had superior outcomes to those who did not attend college. Results are strongest for the recidivism measure, in both the one-year and five-year time frames. Among those who did not attend college while on aid, 22.9 % came back on the rolls within a year of exit. In comparison, just 14.4 % of those who attended college returned to aid. Those with high school diplomas who did not attend college returned to aid at a rate of 21.8 %. Nationally, data indicate that recidivism rates range from 17 % to 28 % within one-year of exit (Acs & Loprest, 2001).
The five-year time horizon shows similar results scaled for a longer period—non-college attendees have a 53.2%recidivism rate within five years of welfare exit and 40.0 % of college attendees returned to aid.
The results for those who graduate from college are even more striking. Among welfare recipients who graduate from college during or just after a welfare spell, the rate of return to aid is just nine percent within one-year and 20 % within five years. Both these recidivism rates are well below those seen for college attendees who do not graduate and those who did not attend college.
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The story for post-welfare employment rates is a bit different from recidivism. Although nearly half of former welfare recipients were employed in the year after their welfare exit, the differences in employment rates post-welfare are not tremendous for the groups.
Indeed, students with high school diplomas who do not attend college were slightly more likely to be employed one year after leaving the welfare system than those who attended college. This is not surprising. Nearly 30% of college/welfare spells end with the former recipient continuing in college.
One would expect one-year follow-up employment rates to be somewhat lower for this group.
Although employment is an important measure, family well-being is better captured by looking at family poverty levels post-welfare. The last two rows of Table 4 show that welfare recipients who attend college have lower poverty levels than their non-attending counterparts in both the one-year and five-year follow-up periods. As with return to aid, graduating from college is the key to reduced poverty. In the five-year follow-up, just 42.5% of graduating recipients experienced a year of poverty, compared to 73.7 % of non-attending recipients and 67.8% of non-attending high school graduates.
These tabulations provide an indication of the importance of college attendance and graduation on post-program outcomes. However, the tabulations are potentially misleading because college students are likely to differ from non-college students on a number of unobservable characteristics. It is possible that these recipients would have done better than those students who never attend college.
Descriptive Statistical Data
Displaying the welfare and graduation rate data graphically increases the ability to make sense out of the numbers. By creating a distribution table and adding the values into a set number of “bins”, one can easily see trends in the distribution of the data. In the case of the percentage of welfare recipients and the percentage of students graduating from High School, the frequency distribution was created with 10 bins, grouping the data accordingly. Table 1 displays the distribution of percentages of families on welfare, while Table 2 displays the distribution of percentages of students graduating.
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Frequency Distribution: Families on Welfare
Frequency Distribution: Percent of Students Graduating
Bin (%) Frequency
This information can also be displayed graphically, as shown in figure A and B below.
The Coefficient of Variation or CV is a calculated value that describes how much variance exists between the mean of a population and the standard deviation. To calculate the CV, divide the standard deviation by the mean. The resulting value is expressed as a percentage.
Figure 3: Coefficient of Variation
The CV for the percentage of families on welfare is 90%, while the CV for the percentage of graduating students is 21%. This indicates that the percentage of families on welfare varies widely from district to district, while the percentage of graduating students is much more consistent.
The research clearly shows that while most children whom come from welfare families may not graduate, the information needed to come to a complete conclusion is not there. There are too many variables and not enough detailed information. Differences from different school districts and differences in records show that more information is needed to make a conclusion. Also, some more information needs to be included or excluded: the differences in families on cyclical welfare versus constant should be re-evaluated and possibly students whom receive their G.E.D.’s later on. The lesson learned is that all students should have equal opportunities in education and furthering their education no matter what their income or where they live.
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Acs, Gregory and Pamela Loprest. (2001).
Final synthesis report of findings from ASPE
“Leavers” Grants. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.
College dropout rate improves, but graduation rate falls. News Release, February
Bane, Mary Jo and David Ellwood (1983).
The dynamics of dependence: The routes to self-
sufficiency. Cambridge, MA: Urban Systems Research and Engineering, Inc.
Doane, D. P., & Seward, L. E. (2007).
Applied statistics in business and economics. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.
London, Rebecca A. (2003).
Welfare recipients’ college enrollment, graduation, and time on
aid. Paper presented at the 2003 Annual meeting of the Association for Public Policy and
Management, Washington, DC.
Table 1: College Enrollment among Welfare Recipients
College Enrollment During the Welfare Spell
Recipients with a High School Diploma or GED 17.0 2,509
All Recipients 13.8 3,317
(1) Welfare spells are smoothed for one-month gaps.
(2) Tabulations are weighted using the 1979 person weights provided by the NLSY.
Table 2: Distribution of College Spells for Welfare Recipients
Number of Spells per Respondent Welfare Spells College Spells Total Overlapping College/Welfare Spells
1 665 276 213
2 412 168 71
3 244 78 18
4 131 40 8
5 54 18 1
6 18 6 1
7 14 5 0
8 3 2 0
9 0 0 0
10 0 0 0
11 0 0 0
12 1 0 0
Total Number of Respondents 1,542 593 312
(1) Welfare spells are smoothed for one-month gaps.
(2) College and college/welfare spells include spells for a respondent’s first degree only.
Table 3: College Graduation among College/Welfare and College Only Students
(N = 312) College Only Students
(N = 2,549)
Graduate Ever During NLSY Panel 36.2 55.0
Graduate with Associate’s Degree 59.1 19.7
Graduate with Bachelor’s Degree or Higher 40.9 80.3
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Graduate At End of College or College/Welfare
Spell 16.2 55.0
Graduate After Leaving Welfare 20.0 N/A
Never Graduate During NLSY Panel 63.8 45.0
Note: Tabulations are weighted using the 1979 person weights provided by the NLSY.
Table 4: Post-Welfare Outcomes for Recipients by College Attendance, College Graduation, and Education Level
Attended College While on Welfare Did Not Attend College While on Welfare
(N=452) Graduated After
(N=42) All Non-
(N=603) No HS
Returned to Welfare
Within One Year 14.4 8.5 22.9 21.8 21.5 26.2
Returned to Welfare
Within Five Years 40.0 19.6 53.2 49.7 56.4 57.6
Employed One Year
After Welfare Exit 46.4 57.5 43.5 49.9 34.0 36.0
Five Years of
Welfare Exit 81.3 86.4 76.0 80.6 69.9 70.4
Family Poverty One
Year After Welfare
Exit 35.0 21.5 43.4 39.3 44.4 50.6
Within Five Years of
Welfare Exit 67.3 42.5 73.7 67.8 79.8 82.0
(1) Sample sizes reported represent the total pool from which follow-up data is drawn. Actual sample sizes vary for one-year and five-year
(2) Observations are spells of welfare receipt and college/welfare receipt. Once an individual graduates from college after a college/Welfare spell, the student is dropped from the sample even if the student returns to aid.
(3) Tabulations are weighted using the weights provided by the NLSY.