Colleges that are Engines for Upward Mobility

New York Times columnist David Leonhardt has a piece on which colleges do the best job in fostering upward mobility:

To take just one encouraging statistic: At City College, in Manhattan, 76 percent of students who enrolled in the late 1990s and came from families in the bottom fifth of the income distribution have ended up in the top three-fifths of the distribution. These students entered college poor. They left on their way to the middle class and often the upper middle class. . . .

Years of reporting on higher education left me focused on the many problems at colleges that enroll large numbers of poor and middle-class students.

Those problems are real: The new study — by a team of economists led by Raj Chetty of Stanford — shows that many colleges indeed fail to serve their students well. Dropout rates are high, saddling students with debt but no degree. For-profit colleges perform the worst, and a significant number of public colleges also struggle. Even at the strong performers, too many students fall by the wayside. Improving higher education should be a national priority.

But the success stories are real, too, and they’re fairly common. As I thought about the new findings in light of the other evidence pointing to the value of education, they became less surprising. After all, the earnings gap between four-year college graduates and everyone else has soared in recent decades. The unemployment rate for college graduates today is a mere 2.5 percent.

Those college graduates have to come from somewhere, of course, and most of them are coming from campuses that look a lot less like Harvard or the University of Michigan than like City College or the University of Texas at El Paso. On these more typical campuses, students often work while they’re going to college. Some are military veterans, others learned English as a second language and others are in their mid-20s or 30s.

The full story is here.

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