College Education Levels Playing Field for Students of Different Financial Backgrounds


A new study has found that while students from wealthy backgrounds are more likely to enroll and graduate in a highly selective college than students from poor families, graduating from college levels the playing field and gives equal opportunities for financial success.

The study, "Mobility Report Cards: The Role of Colleges in Intergenerational Mobility," looked into data from 30 million students and their parents from 1999 to 2013. There, the researchers note that they also found some colleges that greatly help their students get out of poverty and arrive at a better financial status after graduating.

John Friedman, an associate professor of economics at Brown University and one of five co-authors of the study, told Inside Higher Ed that good colleges provide good pathways to success to students from poor families. He adds that college appears to equalize opportunities for students, regardless of financial background.

Based on estimates of student earnings in their early 30s as well as the tax records of each respective student's parents, the study found that Ivy League schools enroll more students from the top 1 percent of family incomes compared to students from the bottom 50 percent. However, when these students graduate, they earn similar amounts of money, whether they came from a wealthy or poor family.

The study also identified colleges that displayed "high economic mobility rates" - schools that lift students from the bottom 20 percent of income up into the top 20 by the time these students reach early 30s.

Findings say Ivy League schools possess the highest mobility rates, with almost 60 percent of students lifted from the bottom 20 to the top 20. Still, there are other schools that don't lag far behind, but enroll significantly more poor students.

For those interested in seeing the data from the study, it is made accessible to the public here.

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