Education: Money Might Be Everything

In January, the Equality of Opportunity Project released new research on college attendance and mobility comparisons between polarized social classes. The New York Times and The Michigan Daily reported on the same research citing the University of Michigan was “ranked last in overall social mobility among highly selective public colleges”. The study, as a whole, shed light on one particular problem: a continuing lack of diversity in student bodies at colleges and universities across the nation.  

This lack of diversity could be attributed to many factors: selective admissions based upon socioeconomic status, credit constraints facing students, parental support for higher education. The list goes on… From the data collected, it appears that students from the top 20% of the income distribution are much more likely to attend increasingly selective universities (from Ivies to renowned state schools) than those from the 4th quintile or below. Unfortunately, these standards have not changed much over time.

Though many elite universities (i.e. Harvard, Yale, Duke) have claimed to have made policy changes in order to attain a more socioeconomically diverse student population, these elites, statistically, seem to have failed. The figure above indicates that the proportion of students attending these universities from outside the top 1% of earners, has fallen over the past decade. The share of students from within the top 1%, however, has risen significantly during that same period. The NYTimes suggests that this may be due to student’s inability to afford attending.

Regardless, it’s important to note that the research also indicated a statistically insignificant difference in academic performance between high and low-income students at elite universities. This means that those who do make it fare well. However, because fewer low-income students are attending these universities, the research postulated that less selective institutions may be “greater engines for social mobility” for these students. Selective universities like Michigan, where 60% of the student body comes from the top 20% of the income distribution, have lower mobility rates for lower-income students because fewer are enrolled. A college education often promises a stable career and livable salary (or better) when utilized appropriately. Yet, it seems that the issue is not so much achieving those, but rather gaining access to the tools to do so.


Anna Graff

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