100 students start college. Who graduates?

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A college degree is a near-requirement for students to build a life in the middle class, but whether or not students graduate often depends on their family income when they start school. Here’s what happened to 100 students from four different income groups who began college in 2002.

In 2008, six years after they started college, 21 students have dropped out. Seven of these dropouts are from lower-income families, while only three students from upper-class families have dropped out.

Thirty out of 100 students graduated with a bachelor’s degree within six years. Four of those students come from lower-income families, and 12 are from upper-class families.

Within six years, 14 students have graduated with a two-year associate’s degree or certificate. Those degrees tend to help students earn more money – but not, on average, as much as workers with four-year degrees. Students from lower and lower-middle class families are more likely to stop their education at this level because they often attend community colleges.

One-third of students who started college in 2002 are still enrolled in 2008. These students cut across income groups, with those coming from lower-income families nearly as likely as their upper-middle income classmates.

Upper $92,000 +

Upper middle $60,000 – $91,999

Lower middle $32,000 – $59,999

Lower Less than $31,999

Bachelor's degree30 students

Associate's 14 students

Still enrolled 35 students

Dropped out 21 students

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics. GRAPHIC: Darla Cameron and Laura Stanton - The Washington Post. Published Oct. 20, 2014.