Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Economic Inequality and Higher Education

Economic Inequality and Higher Education: Access, Persistence, and Success

Stacy Dickert-Conlin
Ross Rubenstein
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 224
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Economic Inequality and Higher Education
    Book Description:

    The vast disparities in college attendance and graduation rates between students from different class backgrounds is a growing social concern. Economic Inequality and Higher Education investigates the connection between income inequality and unequal access to higher education, and proposes solutions that the state and federal governments and schools themselves can undertake to make college accessible to students from all backgrounds. Economic Inequality and Higher Education convenes experts from the fields of education, economics, and public policy to assess the barriers that prevent low-income students from completing college. For many students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, the challenge isn’t getting into college, but getting out with a degree. Helping this group will require improving the quality of education in the community colleges and lower-tier public universities they are most likely to attend. Documenting the extensive disjuncture between the content of state-mandated high school testing and college placement exams, Michael Kirst calls for greater alignment between K-12 and college education. Amanda Pallais and Sarah Turner examine barriers to access at elite universities for low-income students—including tuition costs, lack of information, and poor high school records—as well as recent initiatives to increase socioeconomic diversity at private and public universities. Top private universities have increased the level and transparency of financial aid, while elite public universities have focused on outreach, mentoring, and counseling, and both sets of reforms show signs of success. Ron Ehrenberg notes that financial aid policies in both public and private universities have recently shifted towards merit-based aid, away from the need-based aid that is most helpful to low-income students. Ehrenberg calls on government policy makers to create incentives for colleges to increase their representation of low-income students. Higher education is often vaunted as the primary engine of upward mobility. Instead, as inequality in America rises, colleges may be reproducing income disparities from one generation to the next. Economic Inequality and Higher Education illuminates this worrisome trend and suggests reforms that educational institutions and the government must implement to make the dream of a college degree a reality for all motivated students.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-156-8
    Subjects: Business, Education, Political Science

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. About the Authors
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Chapter 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)
    Stacy Dickert-Conlin and Ross Rubinstein

    It is well known that students from less economically privileged families face considerable barriers to entering and completing college. There is also little doubt that postsecondary education is one of the most important indicators of future labor market success and therefore one of the most critical avenues for reducing persistent societal income inequalities. Estimates suggest that an additional year of education causes an 8 to 10 percent increase in wages (Card 1999) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2006) reports that a postsecondary degree is necessary for twelve of the twenty fastest growing occupations. Postsecondary education may have broader social...

  5. Part I External Factors

    • Chapter 2 Access, Matriculation, and Graduation
      (pp. 17-43)
      Robert Haveman and Kathryn Wilson

      The nation’s higher education system—its colleges and universities—serve several functions. They house the nation’s most highly trained research teams in the nation’s most advanced facilities. They are the source of much of the nation’s technological advance, regardless of field or discipline. They offer training and education to the nation’s youth. In this last role, colleges and universities create a skilled and knowledgeable work force—human capital—and thereby advance the nation’s productivity.

      Were these institutions an integral part of the market economy, they would sell their educational services to those families with young people who are willing to...

    • Chapter 3 Secondary and Postsecondary Linkages
      (pp. 44-66)
      Michael Kirst

      Interspersed with end-of-school-year and graduation news items, a spate of stories appear in national and local newspapers each year about stressed-out students and parents, competitive college admissions, a high school wall filled with college-rejection letters, the so-called new SAT, expensive tuition and onerous high school course loads. One gets the impression that this is the typical experience for college-bound high school students nationwide. Nothing could be further from the truth, because more than 70 percent of high-school graduates go on to postsecondary education within two years of graduation—although many are not prepared and do not succeed once they get...

  6. Part II The Role of Institutions

    • Chapter 4 Remedial and Developmental Courses
      (pp. 69-100)
      Eric P. Bettinger and Bridget Terry Long

      Academic preparation is an important predictor of success in college. Numerous studies link the types of courses students take in high school to their performance in higher education. Clifford Adelman (1999), for example, provides a detailed study of college access and degree completion among a cohort of students who were in the tenth grade in 1980. He finds that a student’s academic background, defined by measures of academic content and performance in secondary school (such as high school curriculum intensity, class rank, and GPA), is the most critical factor in determining college enrollment and success. However, the preparation students have...

    • Chapter 5 Community Colleges
      (pp. 101-127)
      Dan Goldhaber and Gretchen K. Peri

      The evidence that higher education is a key to economic advancement is uncontested. Relative to those who fail to attain a college diploma, graduates of four-year colleges¹ tend to be significantly more successful in the labor market. In 2004, for instance, the annual average unemployment rate for persons with a bachelor’s degree or higher was 2.7 percent as compared to 3.7 percent for those with an associate’s degree, 4.5 percent for those with some college but no degree, and 5.0 percent for high school graduates without any college attendance (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2005).² In 2003, college graduates with...

    • Chapter 6 Access to Elites
      (pp. 128-156)
      Amanda Pallais and Sarah E. Turner

      Students from relatively low-income families are persistently under-represented in the most selective institutions of higher education (see, for example, Bowen, Kurzweil, and Tobin 2005). This is true among the most expensive private colleges and universities as well as many selective public universities with more modest tuition charges. Because selective colleges and universities are perceived to be important stepping-stones to professional and leadership positions, the representation of students from a broad range of socioeconomic backgrounds at these institutions is a significant demonstration of commitment to opportunity and intergenerational mobility.¹ With increased public attention to the underrepresentation of low-income students at selective...

    • Chapter 7 Costs and Implications
      (pp. 157-184)
      Amy Ellen Schwartz

      Few issues ignite the discussion of higher education in America today more consistently and explosively than the escalating cost of attending college. Parents and students, educators, policy makers, and politicians spanning a wide political and socioeconomic spectrum worry about rising tuition. Articles in the popular press regularly decry increasingly outrageous “sticker prices” in higher education fueled by estimates from the consumer price index (CPI) suggesting price increases that outpace overall inflation. Unfortunately, this information about the cost of college is, at best, misleading, in that it overstates significantly the cost that many students will face as they prepare to enroll...

  7. Part III Looking to the Future

    • Chapter 8 Reducing Inequality in Higher Education
      (pp. 187-202)
      Ronald G. Ehrenberg

      As Robert Haveman and Kathryn Wilson point out in chapter 2, differences in college enrollment rates across students from families of different socioeconomic levels have only marginally narrowed since the early 1970s (Baum and Payea 2004, figure 21). Moreover, students from lower-income families are much more likely to start higher education in two-year public colleges and public four-year institutions than are their higher-income counterparts (figure 21). Among students who initially enter four-year institutions, six-year graduation rates of students from families with incomes of less than $50,000 are substantially less than the rates of students from families with incomes of more...

  8. Index
    (pp. 203-216)