Report: Family income major indicator in college entrance, selection, graduation
WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 19, 2016) – Although more U.S. students from all races, ethnicities and economic levels have enrolled in colleges and universities after high school in the past 40 years, family income has a significant impact on entrance to college, student loan debt and degree completion, according to a report issued today. The persistent inequality is associated in part, the report shows, with less resourced post-secondary school choices for students from families in the country’s lowest income group.
The Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States: 2016 Historical Trend Report by the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education and the University of Pennsylvania Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy examines trends in post-secondary enrollment in the U.S. by family income, race/ethnicity and family socioeconomic status. It uses data from Current Population Survey (CPS), the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Beginning Postsecondary Study, the NCES high school longitudinal studies, and other public sources.
The report shows that while bachelor’s degree attainment rates have increased for all family income quartiles, the distribution of bachelor’s degree attainment between family income levels has remained relatively constant since 1970. The top two family income quartiles together accounted for 72 percent of the total bachelor’s degrees attained in 1970 and 77 percent of the bachelor’s degrees in 2014.
The report indicates that students from higher and lower income quartiles enroll in different types of colleges and universities with varying rates of college success.
Among the key indicators:
The gap narrowed on those who enroll in post-secondary education:
Income level influences the type of postsecondary education that students attend:
Financial barriers to paying college costs:
“The U.S. now has an educational system that sorts students in ways that have profound implications for later life chances. More work is required to achieve the vision of ensuring all Americans have the opportunity to use their creative potential to realize the many benefits of higher education and advance the well-being and progress of the nation,” said Margaret Cahalan, co-author of the report and director of The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education.
“Students from higher-income families have the resources that enable meaningful choice from among the array of available options nationwide,” said Laura Perna, co-author of the report and director of the Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy (AHEAD) of the University of Pennsylvania. “But resource constraints and structural failures often limit the choices of students from lower-income families to non-selective or for-profit postsecondary educational institutions.”
The Pell Institute conducts and disseminates research and policy analysis to encourage policymakers, educators, and the public to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for low-income, first-generation, and disabled college students.
Penn AHEAD is dedicated to fostering open, equitable, and democratic societies through higher education. Located within the Graduate School of Education of the University of Pennsylvania, AHEAD conducts original research and applies a multidisciplinary, research-based approach to address the most pressing issues regarding the societal contributions of higher education in the United States and the world.