Temple’s Hope Center reports on difficulties finishing college

Many hardships that Philadelphia residents face stem from lack of financial support and aid.


Forty-five percent of respondents hoping to complete college think it is “unlikely” or “very unlikely” they will graduate in the next five years, according to a September 2021 report from Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice based out of the Lewis Katz School of Medicine.

About 900 Philadelphians, who did not go to college or started college but did not finish, were surveyed in a joint effort by Temple’s Institute for Survey Research and the Hope Center in Fall 2020, according to the “Philadelphians Speak Up About Barriers to College Completion: A #RealCollegePHL Report.” The city residents surveyed were ages 25 to 44. The report focuses on the difficulties of obtaining a college degree. 

The Hope Center’s questions were sent to 2,593 members of ISR’s BeHeardPhilly Panel, according to the report. Eight-hundred members completed the survey, yielding a 30.8 percent response rate. 

This report complements a May 2021 report from the Hope Center about the struggles that Philadelphia-area college students faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Black people and women are less likely to complete college, with 52 percent of survey respondents who did not complete or start college identifying as Black, according to the report. Additionally, 72 percent of survey respondents who did not complete or start college were female. 

About half of survey respondents who have not completed college reside in Northwest, Lower Northeast and North Philadelphia, while approximately 30 percent of respondents who have not completed college live in West, South and Southwest Philadelphia, according to the report.

Fewer than one in 10 Philadelphia residents without a college degree or certificate believe that the city’s four-year colleges are “very affordable,” according to the report.

Many students leave college due to financial reasons like the inability to pay tuition, the need to work more hours at their job, financial disruptions due to family obligations and loss or lack of financial aid, according to the report. 

When asked about Temple’s affordability, 40 percent of survey respondents said the university is not affordable and 55 percent said Temple is somewhat affordable, while only four percent said that Temple is affordable, according to the report.

After implementing a tuition freeze the previous academic year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Temple increased base tuition by 2.5 percent this year, The Temple News reported

About two in five respondents, who have not started or completed college, said childcare and rent were “not affordable,” according to the report.

One in four Philadelphians live in poverty and more than one in six residents 25 and older started college but did not graduate. Yet, half of the jobs available in Philadelphia require at least some level of higher education, according to the report.

In the spring of 2020, the unemployment gap in the United States between those with bachelor’s degrees and those without, increased significantly compared to previous years, according to an economic letter from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. The participation rate for residents with a high school diploma or less fell four percentage points while the unemployment rate for those with at least a bachelor’s degree only fell 1.2 percentage points.  

People with a bachelor’s degree were more likely to make the switch to remote work and keep their jobs than those without a degree, according to the letter.

The Hope Center urges students in financial distress to explore existing financial support resources, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and affordable childcare, said Sonja Dahl, junior research associate at the Hope Center.

The report encourages the city and each college to provide emergency aid to students through grants for college students, Dahl said. 

The Hope Center highlights resources and community organizations available to students on their website and in their reports, like Graduate! Philadelphia which works with local and federal programs to support students in returning to higher education and completing their degrees by walking returning students through the application process and assigning them an adviser from Graduate! Philadelphia. 

“It’s really about highlighting how financial barriers, including the cost of paying for living expenses, are getting in the way of Philadelphians who are trying to return to college or attend for the first time,” Dahl said.

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