How cash-strapped college students increase poverty levels in Oklahoma

College students can have a significant effect on overall poverty rates. Courtesy News9
Recently-released data shows how struggling college students can significantly impact poverty levels in smaller communities.

The American Community Survey released data last month that identified how cash-strapped college students impact overall poverty rates.

Across the U.S. and in Oklahoma, that effect is more noticeable in smaller cities. Weatherford, with a poverty rate of about 20 percent, would probably see its rate cut almost in half if college students were excluded from the town’s overall calculation. Weatherford is home to Southwestern Oklahoma State University.

Meanwhile, in a larger city such as Edmond, the rate would likely fall by less than 3 percentage points. Norman’s rate would likely fall by about 5 percentage points, and Stillwater’s would fall about 13 percentage points. The University of Central Oklahoma is in Edmond, and Norman is home to the University of Oklahoma. Oklahoma State University is in Stillwater.

The data, published by the U.S. Census Bureau, doesn’t include students who live in dormitories, but only those who live off campus. It uses a five-year estimate and includes only communities with populations above 10,000 residents where college students significantly impact poverty rates.

Two smaller Oklahoma cities — Stillwater and Weatherford — have the highest overall poverty rates. Stillwater has a rate of about 34 percent, and Weathford’s rate is at about 20 percent.

The study is aimed to spark conversations among policy makers on the impact impoverished college students can have on communities.

For example, the Wisconsin HOPE Lab produces research that tries to direct lawmakers and practitioners to make college more accessible for minorities, low-income students and first-generation students. The organization also aims to identify obstacles to college.

Some colleges, such as the University of Central Oklahoma, have partnered with organizations that support campus pantries and food banks.

In recent years, budget cuts to higher education in Oklahoma have caused schools to eliminate scholarships and shrink faculty levels. At the same time, tuition and mandatory fees have steadily increased.

Related reading: 

Who is going to college in Oklahoma?

Your financial support for our investigative journalism is now tax deductible. To become a Friend of The frontier, click here.

Kassie McClung

Staff writer

Kassie McClung reports on health, criminal justice and other state issues. Contact: or 918-935-1044.