How do College Students Impact County-Level Poverty Rates in Ohio?

When college students live off campus, poverty rates go up. This is because the incomes of full-time college students are counted in poverty counts alongside the incomes of other local residents.

There is plenty of reason to be worried about college student poverty rates. That being said, college students are more likely to have higher family income and social capital than those who do not attend college. Also, students from high-income families who decide to not generate income during college years in order to increase wages later may necessitate a different policy intervention than local residents experiencing involuntary chronic or intermittent poverty.

In December 2017, researchers at the Census Bureau estimated the impact of presence of off-campus college students on poverty rates on a county-by-county basis. Nine Ohio Counties, Athens, Butler, Cuyahoga, Franklin, Greene, Hamilton, Lucas, Portage, and Wood, were found to have college student populations that significantly shifted the poverty rate in the counties. These counties were also home to 12 of Ohio’s 15 largest colleges and universities.

Of these counties, the three where college students had the largest impact on county-level poverty rates were Athens (9 percentage points), Wood (4.6 percentage points), and Portage (2.5 percentage points) counties, rural and suburban counties that are home to large state universities Ohio University, Bowling Green State University, and Kent State University.

The presence of college students also impacts the ranking of counties relative to one another when it comes to poverty. As can be seen in table 1, Wood and Portage Counties falls from a slightly low-poverty county to one of the lowest-poverty counties in the state when adjusting for college students. Even Franklin and Hamilton County, two of the most populous urban counties in the state, drop from relatively high poverty to more middling poverty numbers when adjusting for college students.

Also notable is Athens County, which still maintains an extremely high poverty rate after adjusting for college students, but no longer holds the top spot after the adjustment.

College student poverty is an issue that policymakers should pay attention to, but it also looks very different than poverty among the general population. Adjusting for college student prevalence can help policymakers understand the different types of poverty that live in university-dominated counties versus those with smaller student populations.