Poverty rate drops in college towns when students go uncounted

More than 22 percent of people living in Winona live below the federal poverty level. But exclude the number of college students in the college town and the number drops in half. The same is true for Mankato, another college town in the state.

Those findings are part of a paper from the Census Bureau examining the effect of college students on poverty rates.

The agency’s poverty rate estimates already exclude college students living in dorms but until now have not examined the effect of disregarding students living in off-campus housing. The data could be used to adjust anti-poverty program spending in college towns. It also shows the extent to which college students shape the demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of local communities, the Census Bureau said.

The influence of college students is most pronounced in Mankato and Winona. In their counties — Blue Earth and Winona — the poverty rate drops 7 and 6 percentage points respectively when students aren’t counted.

In the U.S., the Florida cities of Gainesville and Tallahassee have the steepest drops in the poverty rate among places with populations of 100,000 or more when excluding college students. Madison (ranked 8th) and Fargo (ranked 12th)  also reveal themselves to be much more prosperous once the students are removed.

In Minnesota’s larger cities, the rate doesn’t change much. Minneapolis’ poverty rate drops only 2.5 percent. Saint Paul drops by 1.3 percent.

Other college cities — notably, Saint Cloud — still have a high rate even when excluding students.

Twenty-six percent of St. Cloud lives in poverty. But excluding college students, one of every 5 lives below the poverty level, the Census Bureau report says. The size of the drop is about the same in Moorhead, but the poverty rate there drops to about 16 percent when excluding college students.