College and Financial Independence
Are the effects of college-level education on income and financial independence positive enough to make it worthwhile for states to extend support to qualified welfare recipients to enable them to pursue such education? Welfare reform around the country has tended to focus on immediate work experience as a means to achieve financial independence. While many states continue to provide and encourage short-term education and training as a complement to job search, they often actively discourage longer-term education, especially two- and four-year college degree programs. Grants and loans may make it possible for low-income students to attend a college or university, but they are unlikely to be sufficient to enable those students to support a family as well. Low-income single parents may find themselves able to finance college tuition and fees, but unable to attend because they cannot support their family during the time required to earn their degree.
A proper analysis of this issue requires evaluating the benefits of providing welfare assistance to college students. Are the outcomes sufficiently positive that states should continue to support those welfare recipients with the necessary ability and desire to pursue postsecondary education? The results of this study indicate that the returns to a college degree for welfare recipients are sufficiently high to make postsecondary education a particularly promising avenue to financial independence.