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Mon May 20, 2013, 12:52 PM

American Colleges Are Becoming a Force for Inequality

We like to view higher education as the "great equalizer" that leads to social mobility. But selective colleges have long been accused of perpetuating class divides, rather than blurring them.

A recent landmark study by Stanford's Caroline Hoxby and Harvard's Christopher Avery lent further empirical evidence to this accusation, finding that high-achieving low-income students do not have access to selective schools. The study showed that the mismatch is due to a lack of knowledge, not quality. Low-income students outside of major urban centers do not even apply to the top-tier colleges for which they are qualified.

Many commentators and the study authors themselves have looked for ways to alleviate this mismatch. A follow-up study found that supplying basic information to applicants could substantially increase the number of low-income students applying to more selective schools. Just giving low-income kids packets of information helped them apply to better schools.

Yet while the information gaps are real and need to be addressed, there is a much deeper structural problem. If most top colleges wanted to be truly equitable, they could not be with their current business model. There is not a golden pot of low-income applicants that schools want but are failing to reach. Instead, many schools don't want more low-income students because they won't be able to pay for them without a major overhaul of school funding practices. Outside of the handful of super-elite universities with fortress endowments, colleges' finances are currently designed around enrolling a disproportionately high number of high-income students. These schools could not afford to support more low-income or middle-income students absent either a huge increase in tuition, a commensurate reduction in spending, or a dramatic change in public funding.

In fact, schools are already moving away from a more equitable system. Colleges actively recruit "full pay" students who can attend and will not need financial aid. A 2011 survey by Inside Higher Ed found that about 35 percent of admissions directors at 4-year institutions, particularly public colleges, had increased their efforts to target "full pay" students. Far from wanting to enroll more low-income students, colleges recruit more affluent ones who will pay full price to attend. A follow-up survey of college business officers found that the most common strategy to deal with financial challenges in the next few years was to "raise net tuition revenue." More than 7 in 10 college CFOs cited this answer. In other words, schools are becoming more reliant on the inequality in the system than ever before.

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Reply American Colleges Are Becoming a Force for Inequality (Original post)
Addison May 2013 OP
knitter4democracy May 2013 #1

Response to Addison (Original post)

Mon May 20, 2013, 03:22 PM

1. Schools with high rates of free-and-reduced lunch need coaches.

Graduation and college application coaches should be mandatory in every school.

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