A report released earlier in January, by the Maine Education Policy Research Institute at USM, measured the impact poverty has on student achievement in Maine. The results show a direct correlation between how well students fare in the classroom and poverty rates.
One of the report’s key findings is that with increasing poverty levels, student performance generally decreases.
Amy Johnson is the Assistant Director at the Maine Center for Education Policy. She was also involved in earlier research that studied the effects of poverty on student performance.
That study found that 53 percent of students who came from economically disadvantaged families were “not persisting or not successful.” Only 40 percent of students coming from economically advantaged backgrounds fell in this category.
The report defined a student as “persisting or successful” if he or she earned at least 24 credit hours during the first six months at college and achieved a 2.0 or higher grade point average. To qualify for this rating, the student also had to return for full-time studies during the second year.
Johnson, however, warns that the report also showed that there were plenty of exceptions to the rule. She said: “The fact that students were economically disadvantaged was by no means deterministic. It’s not one deciding factor that overshadows everything else in a student’s life. Poverty alone does not determine whether any student will be successful.”
She went on to say that the study merely highlighted the problem; it did not come with solutions. She feels that more research has to be carried out to determine exactly why students coming from economically disadvantaged families tend to drop out more frequently and also how to help these students perform better.
Keith DuBois, the director of financial aid at USM, said that his university was trying its best to make a college education more affordable. Poverty, he said, was definitely a problem in Maine, which is why the university decided to freeze tuition fees and invest $4 million in programs that provide financial aid to students in need.
He mentioned that around 85 percent of first-year, full-time students at USM received some sort of financial aid. Approximately 42 percent of students received the Pell Grant, a government initiative to help students in need of assistance.