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Economic Inequality and Higher Education

Access, Persistence, and Success

Stacy Dickert-Conlin, Ross Rubenstien

Publication Year: 2007

The vast disparities in college attendance and graduation rates between students from different class backgrounds is a growing social concern. Economic Inequality and Higher Education investigates the connection between income inequality and unequal access to higher education, and proposes solutions that the state and federal governments and schools themselves can undertake to make college accessible to students from all backgrounds. Economic Inequality and Higher Education convenes experts from the fields of education, economics, and public policy to assess the barriers that prevent low-income students from completing college. For many students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, the challenge isn’t getting into college, but getting out with a degree. Helping this group will require improving the quality of education in the community colleges and lower-tier public universities they are most likely to attend. Documenting the extensive disjuncture between the content of state-mandated high school testing and college placement exams, Michael Kirst calls for greater alignment between K-12 and college education. Amanda Pallais and Sarah Turner examine barriers to access at elite universities for low-income students—including tuition costs, lack of information, and poor high school records—as well as recent initiatives to increase socioeconomic diversity at private and public universities. Top private universities have increased the level and transparency of financial aid, while elite public universities have focused on outreach, mentoring, and counseling, and both sets of reforms show signs of success. Ron Ehrenberg notes that financial aid policies in both public and private universities have recently shifted towards merit-based aid, away from the need-based aid that is most helpful to low-income students. Ehrenberg calls on government policy makers to create incentives for colleges to increase their representation of low-income students. Higher education is often vaunted as the primary engine of upward mobility. Instead, as inequality in America rises, colleges may be reproducing income disparities from one generation to the next. Economic Inequality and Higher Education illuminates this worrisome trend and suggests reforms that educational institutions and the government must implement to make the dream of a college degree a reality for all motivated students.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title Page

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About the Authors

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pp. vii-viii

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-13

IT IS well known that students from less economically privileged families face considerable barriers to entering and completing college. There is also little doubt that postsecondary education is one of the most important indicators of future labor market success and therefore...

Part I: External Factors

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2. Access, Matriculation, and Graduation

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pp. 17-43

THE NATION’S higher education system—its colleges and universities—serve several functions. They house the nation’s most highly trained research teams in the nation’s most advanced facilities. They are the source of much of the nation’s technological advance,...

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3. Secondary and Postsecondary Linkages

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pp. 44-65

INTERSPERSED WITH end-of-school-year and graduation news items, a spate of stories appear in national and local newspapers each year about stressed-out students and parents, competitive college admissions, a high school wall filled with college-rejection letters, the...

Part II: The Role of Institutions

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4. Remedial and Developmental Courses

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pp. 69-100

ACADEMIC PREPARATION is an important predictor of success in college. Numerous studies link the types of courses students take in high school to their performance in higher education. Clifford Adelman (1999), for example, provides a detailed study of college access and degree...

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5. Community Colleges

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pp. 101-127

THE EVIDENCE that higher education is a key to economic advancement is uncontested. Relative to those who fail to attain a college diploma, graduates of four-year colleges1 tend to be significantly more successful in the labor market. In 2004, for instance, the annual average...

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6. Access to Elites

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pp. 128-156

STUDENTS FROM relatively low-income families are persistently underrepresented in the most selective institutions of higher education (see, for example, Bowen, Kurzweil, and Tobin 2005). This is true among the most expensive private colleges and universities as well as many...

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7. Costs and Implications

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pp. 157-184

FEW ISSUES ignite the discussion of higher education in America today more consistently and explosively than the escalating cost of attending college. Parents and students, educators, policy makers, and politicians spanning a wide political and socioeconomic spectrum worry...

Part III: Looking to the Future

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8. Reducing Inequality in Higher Education

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pp. 187-201

AS ROBERT Haveman and Kathryn Wilson point out in chapter 2, differences in college enrollment rates across students from families of different socioeconomic levels have only marginally narrowed since the early 1970s (Baum and Payea 2004, figure 21). ...


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pp. 203-213

E-ISBN-13: 9781610441568
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871543202
Print-ISBN-10: 0871543206

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 608553425
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Economic Inequality and Higher Education

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Income distribution -- United States.
  • Education, Higher -- United States.
  • Education -- Economic aspects -- United States.
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