College Graduates Coming from the Ranks of Privilege!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has an article referencing the work of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce,  and commenting on data from several studies on college graduates:

“Instead of serving as a springboard to social mobility as it did for the first decades after World War II, college education today is reinforcing class stratification, with a huge majority of the 24 percent of Americans aged 25 to 29 currently holding a bachelor’s degree coming from families with earnings above the median income.

Seventy-four percent of those now attending colleges that are classified as “most competitive,” a group that includes schools like Harvard, Emory, Stanford and Notre Dame, come from families with earnings in the top income quartile, while only three percent come from families in the bottom quartile.

Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce and co-author of “How Increasing College Access Is Increasing Inequality, and What to Do about It,” puts it succinctly: “The education system is an increasingly powerful mechanism for the intergenerational reproduction of privilege.”

The article goes on to identify that the stratification begins before students ever get to college.  SAT scores, for instance, have a strong positive correlation to family income (see chart above on 2009 SATs).

The article concludes:

“The built-in tension between postsecondary selectivity and upward mobility is particularly acute in the United States. Americans rely on education as an economic arbiter more than do other modern nations,” Carnevale wrote in “How Increasing College Access Is Increasing Inequality, and What to Do About It.” “Americans always have preferred education over the welfare state as a means for balancing the equality implicit in citizenship and the inequality implicit in markets.”

Politically, the lack of access to a four-year college education is a crucial problem for one of the key battleground constituencies of 2012: whites without college degrees. Several issues that can be mined by enterprising politicians cluster around this debilitating lack of access — in fact they help cause it — including the enormous debt loads carried by students and recent graduates, as well as the emergence of for-profit colleges saddling low-income students with loans for programs they cannot complete. The data show that a disproportionately large percentage of young adults from working-class families who, according to their test scores and grade point averages, are equipped to earn a B.A., are either not going to college, or failing to finish — relegating them to a life of stagnant or declining wages. There is a reservoir of resentment over this fate…”

All education but especially our colleges and universities  have to look at ourselves and determine how we may be contributing to this situation.  For example, the large four-year public institutions – selective and less selective – in response to declining state revenue have been courting  “better” foreign and out of state students and increasingly are cutting back or no longer providing support services for students deemed to be at risk.






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