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When Off-Campus College Students are Excluded, Poverty Rates Fall in Many College Towns

Mon Jul 29 2013
Alemayehu Bishaw
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What happens to the poverty rate of a community when you exclude college students who live off-campus? A new working paper, Examining the Effect of Off-Campus College Students on Poverty Rates,using  American Community Survey data collected from 2009 to 2011, looks at this question and found significant changes, especially for cities with large student populations. The paper analyzes the impact of college students who are not living with relatives on the poverty rates of states, counties and places where the schools are located.

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The Census Bureau often receives calls from communities asking about this topic. This information is important for state and local planners for determining the number of nonstudents eligible for programs and services. While poverty estimates from the Census Bureau generally already exclude college students living in dormitories, they usually include all college students living off-campus.

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For the 2009-2011 period, about 15.2 percent of the total U.S. population had income below the poverty level. In contrast, more than half (51.8 percent) of students living off-campus and not living with relatives were below the poverty line. Excluding these students, the total poverty rate for the rest of the U.S. population dropped to 14.5 percent and most states also had small but statistically significant declines in their poverty rates. Among all states, the size of the decline in poverty rates ranged from 0.3 percentage points in Alaska to 1.8 percentage points in North Dakota.

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We also looked at what would happen to the poverty rates of counties and cities when we excluded these students.

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For counties, we saw that of the 1,844 counties with populations greater than 20,000 people, 162 counties experienced a statistically significant change in its poverty rate after excluding off-campus college students.  For those counties with statistically significant changes, the decrease in the poverty rate ranged from 16.5 percentage points for Whitman County, Wash., to 0.6 percentage point in Maricopa County, Ariz.

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Forty-nine cities (with populations greater than 100,000) had significant declines in poverty rates when off-campus college students were excluded.  Some of the places with the largest percentage point changes were smaller cities and towns.  For example, college towns such as State College, Pa., Blacksburg, Va., Athens, Ohio, West Lafayette, Ind., East Lansing, Mich., Isla Vista, Calif., and Oxford, Ohio, all had declines around 30 percentage points in their poverty rates.

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The working paper includes an extensive set of tables showing poverty rates with and without off-campus college students for all states and for all counties and places with populations greater than 20,000.

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