Below the Poverty Threshold: Persevering in College, Breaking the Cycle

Do you know where you stand when it concerns the poverty threshold? I assume that most people realize that they are within the range of living in poverty, but it wasn’t until I saw the chart from 2013 that I realized how far below that threshold my familyScreen Shot 2014-10-26 at 11.05.06 AM is. At times this is stressful, yet at other times it really isn’t. I have learned to not let my socioeconomic status determine my chances of success. I know this is like trying to defy gravity in some sense, but I don’t think it is, really. Before I go into some really encouraging information I found, I thought it would be helpful to share this chart. My family’s poverty threshold is in red, however we are well below that only bringing in a little over half of that income. I know many, if not most of you, can relate. 

What does this mean to us as moms in college?

1) We qualify for financial aid, which is great. This is the reason we can attend college in the first place. Yet, we still struggle because the anticipated need and the actual need have discrepancies due to this thing called life that happens every day. Someone gets sick, a car breaks down, etc.

2) We cannot do all of the things we want to do for our children: We cannot afford private schools. We cannot afford extracurricular activities. We cannot always be home with our children because we are probably working, either before or after school. We cannot “back to school” shop like our friends might. At any moment, we could be homeless. And we know all of this. It scares us and motivates us at the same time.

3) We have found a deeper motivation for completing college and the moment we have that degree in our hands, we know that somehow we have broken the cycle for our children. The result may not be immediate, but it is there. Here is what I found about just that:

In an 2007 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Paul Attewell and David Lavin found two really encouraging facts during their research. First, despite a huge increase in the college-educated population, the value of a degree has not eroded over time. For women, in particular, it has grown. While the students we studied who entered college with poor preparation or economic disadvantages did not earn as much as straight-A or middle-class collegians, poorly prepared students who attended college nevertheless earned 13 percent more annually than students from similar backgrounds who went no further than high-school graduation.” This is an encouraging fact — that even though people are claiming that a college degree is losing value, for us it isn’t. Second, and more importantly, when mothers from poor and working-class backgrounds went to college, they changed the way they raised their children. Their educational expectations for their children climbed, and their style of interacting with them was affected, compared with similar women who never attended college. College mothers became more involved in their children’s schools and turned into advocates for their kids…In combination, such parental activities associated with maternal college attendance improved their children’s educational performance, whether measured by test scores or chances of college entry. In short, maternal collegegoing interrupts the cycle of poverty.”

Maternal college-going interrupts the cycle of poverty. 

I don’t know about you, but that fact right there truly tells me that our hard work is not in vain. It tells me that even when things get really, really tough, we have to persevere — for ourselves and our children. I realize this is not going to be true for everyone. The authors of the article point that out too when they state that, “College access did not erase disadvantage for everyone” yet “On average, however, we found that maternal collegegoing had a significant positive impact on the prospects for the second generation among various disadvantaged groups.”

I have grown up as part of a continuous cycle of low-education and low-income in my family. Even though I had the basic necessities growing up (of which I am grateful for), I did not have access to resources that many of the kids at my school did. I was not a part of school sports or clubs. I was not encouraged to go to college. I know that my children are experiencing this too, but I am changing that. Knowing that every class I pass and every semester I finish is leading me to a broken cycle of poverty just makes me want to do the very best I can. I can’t give up because I have already come further than I was ever expected to. I am motivated to succeed because I know that it will make a difference in the lives of my children. What about you? 



Attewell, P., & Lavin, D. E. (2007, July 6). Distorted Statistics on Graduation Rates. Chronicle of Higher Education. p. B16.


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