Sara Goldrick-Rab and Nancy Kendall will investigate a range of factors that may affect perceptions of affordability and the decision to stay in college. The income gap between students who finish college and those who do not is increasing. In addition, college costs are on the rise, and the rate of college completion among low-income students remains low. Even when the net cost of college—the difference between the actual amount and the aid offered—is low, students do not perceive college as affordable. Little is known about what influences students’ perceptions of affordability and how these perceptions shift once students enter college. Sara Goldrick-Rab and Nancy Kendall will investigate a range of factors that may affect perceptions of affordability and the decision to stay in college. They will sample 60 students from low-income families at four public campuses in the University of Wisconsin system (15 from each campus). The campuses vary on institutional and community characteristics related to affordability (e.g., student demographics, tuition, financial aid, and graduation rates). The students will be drawn from a larger study of 10,000 Pell Grant recipients who agree to follow-up contact. Following a baseline survey and monitoring of daily activities via text messaging, the investigators will conduct an ethnographic study that will include semi-structured and unstructured interviews, document analyses, and participant observations on and off campus. The surveys and ethnography will assess perceptions of affordability, knowledge of financial aid, influence of families, experiences within institutions and the observed settings, and relationships with peer and university faculty and staff.
Why do some students from low-income families drop out of college?