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The secret to a college education may be a factor few students can control: money.

The percentage of Americans graduating from college has increased over the last several decades. But so has the gap between the percentage of poor students and rich students earning bachelor's degrees.

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According to a study out Tuesday, the graduation rate among low-income students increased from six percent in 1970 to just nine percent in 2013. At the same time, the graduation rate among wealthy students has jumped from 44 percent to 77 percent.

The main problem isn't that poor students don't enroll in college. Many do, the study notes. But poor students are significantly more likely to drop out, often because of finances. While Pell Grants, intended to help low-income students pay for college, have gone up, tuition costs have increased even more.

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The upshot is that poor families have been left to make up the difference financially - and few are succeeding.

Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.