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Students From Low-Income Families Have High College Aspirations, Report Finds

IOWA CITY, IA — Nearly all ACT-tested students from low-income families in the United States aspire to go to college — at an even higher rate than students overall — but many lack the academic preparation to reach this goal, according to new report released by ACT and the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP).

While 95 percent of ACT-tested students from low-income families said they wish to pursue some type of postsecondary education — compared to about 87 percent of all tested graduates — only 59 percent of those students immediately enrolled in postsecondary education after graduating from high school, compared to 71 percent of all students.

The findings in the report, The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2013: Students from Low-Income Families, focus on student progress relative to college readiness measurements based on the 54 percent of the 2013 graduating class who took the ACT® college readiness assessment. Students who report a family income of less than $36,000 per year are classified as low income for the purposes of this report.

The research shows that only 69 percent of ACT-tested students from low-income families took a recommended core curriculum in high school, compared to 84 percent of students from high-income families. ACT defines the core curriculum as four years of English and three years each of mathematics, social studies and science.

"This report underscores the disconnect between students’ plans for their educational future and their preparation to put those plans in action,” said Scott Montgomery, ACT vice president for policy, advocacy and government relations. “There’s great room for improvement and an urgent need for reducing the barriers faced by students from low-income families.”

According to the research only 20 percent of students from low-income families met at least three of the four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, compared to 62 percent of students from high-income families (defined as family income of more than $100,000 per year). In addition, nearly half (49 percent) of students from low-income families met none of the benchmarks.

The ACT College Readiness Benchmarks are scores on the ACT subject area tests (English, mathematics, reading and science) that represent the level of achievement required for students to have a 50-percent chance of obtaining a B or higher, or about a 75-percent chance of obtaining a C or higher, in corresponding credit-bearing first-year college courses.

“Students from low-income families have the aspiration and drive to make it to and through college, but they need to be met with supports and the tools to succeed,” says Nathan R. Monell, CAE, president and chief executive officer of NCCEP. “College access programs such as the federal GEAR UP program provide research-based interventions to help ensure high-needs students meet key benchmarks and are not left behind.”

The report uses data from approximately 1.8 million ACT-tested high school graduates from the U.S. class of 2013. Of those, 428,549 identified themselves as being from low-income families. During ACT registration, students are asked to provide information about family income, high-school course taking and postsecondary aspirations.

The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2013, Students from Low-Income Families report can be viewed and downloaded for free on the ACT website.

About ACT
ACT is a mission-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people achieve education and workplace success. Headquartered in Iowa City, IA, ACT is trusted as the nation’s leader in college and career readiness, providing high-quality achievement assessments grounded in more than 50 years of research and experience. ACT offers a uniquely integrated set of solutions that help people succeed from elementary school through career, providing insights that unlock potential. To learn more about ACT, go to

NCCEP is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to the fundamental principle that every child deserves an equal chance to obtain a high-quality education. NCCEP establishes community-education partnerships, strengthens research-based college access programs, and develops tools and resources to provide educational opportunities for all students. For more information, please visit us online at