Chart: The Correlation Between Smarts, Income, and Graduation

Chart: The Correlation Between Smarts, Income, and Graduation

grad rates by grades and income

We’ve previously seen the high, and increasingly so, correlation between college graduation success and a student’s family income level. While dropout rates have soared of late overall, the lower income student certainly has suffered this fate disproportionately.

However, correlation does not equal causation. Are kids dropping out because of money or are other factors at work here?

If one reads the comments section following any article about this topic one common theory among the army of armchair sociologists is that poorer students don’t drop out at higher rates because of money, but because poorer students also tend to underperform academically. This theory generally goes that often people are poor because they’re have lower IQs and therefore the dropout rate doesn’t have so much to do with income levels, per se, but with the student’s/family’s inability to intellectually perform both in the job market and at school.

This week’s chart, brought to us in an article by Michael Kennedy of the Bangor Daily News, using information from the NCES, brings much clarity to the debate. Here we get to compare apples to apples students ranked by quartile in both academic performance and income levels to see how they match up. When we factor “smarts” into the equation do we now see the income/graduation disparity level out?

While as one might expect we see higher dropout rates among the lower quartile academic performers, rich and poor alike, we also quickly see that income does indeed play a factor in one’s graduation prospects. Across the board wealthier kids graduate at higher rates, and significantly so. As Mr. Kennedy points out, “Students with high-income parents who had low scores (21 percent) were just about as likely to graduate from college as students with higher-than-average scores from low-income families (23 percent)”.

It does seem that skyrocketing college costs have led to a “pay to play” atmosphere where one’s educational success largely hinges on one’s ability to continue to foot the bill. But what to do about it if you’re coming to school from the wrong side of the tracks? Obviously, given the overwhelming responses to such articles, engaging in online class wars is an option.  That, however, won’t get anyone any closer to success in this venture.

It is what it is and nobody seems to know what to do about it on our behalf, at the national level. We must take on the task of affordable graduations ourselves, at an individual level. If you want to buck the statistical trend, those of us without deep pockets must fight on multiple fronts planning, increasing our means, and reducing costs at every turn. Hopefully this website is providing proper armament to do just that.