It has gotten increasingly harder for students to work their way through college, especially for low-income students who face steep challenges when combining work and learning. Students from higher-income families tend to benefit as they work fewer hours in jobs directly related to their fields of study. Low-income working college students often work longer hours, and as a result, are less likely than their higher-income peers to get good grades and attain bachelor’s degrees or any credential at all.

Key Findings

Of the 14 million working learners, about 6 million (43%) are low-income students.

Low-income working learners are disproportionately Black (18%) and Latino (25%), women (58%), and first-generation college-goers (47%), while higher-income working learners tend to be White (73%).

Low-income working learners are more likely to enroll in certificate programs and attend either two-year public or for-profit colleges than higher-income working learners, whereas higher-income working students are more likely to enroll in bachelor’s degree programs and attend selective four-year colleges and universities.

Low-income working learners are less likely to earn a credential overall, even if they come from the upper end of the academic performance distribution.


Watch our video to learn more about the challenges that low-income working learners in college face.

Full Report

Balancing Work and Learning: Implications for Low-Income Students finds that while working and studying generally helps students from higher-income families, low-income students face steeper challenges when combining work and college.