Rich-Poor Divide on US Campuses Widening

The Hechinger Report “The Rich-Poor Divide on American Campuses Is Getting Wider, Fast” indicates that economic inequality effects the choices students make regarding post-secondary education. Wealthier students tend to select private, 4-year colleges and public, research universities while less well-to-do students attend 2-year and regional, public, 4-year institutions — even when the less well-to-do students have higher GPAs and test scores than there wealthier peers.

According to the Hechinger Report:

It’s a stark view of the reality of American higher education, in which rich kids go to elite private and flagship public campuses while poor kids — including those who score higher on standardized tests than their wealthier counterparts — end up at community colleges and regional public universities with much lower success rates, assuming they continue their educations at all. And new federal data analyzed by the Hechinger Report and the Huffington Post  show the gap has been widening at a dramatically accelerating rate since the economic downturn began in 2008.

This divide occurs for a number of reasons. Less well-to-do students may have families, need to work while attending school, and wealthier students, including those in the middle class, receive student loans at a higher rate than in the past. The upshot of the socio-economic class segregation on American campuses, the Hechinger Report concludes, is:

Once acclaimed as the equal-opportunity stepping stone to the middle class, and a way of closing that divide, higher education has instead become more segregated than ever by wealth and race as state funding has fallen and colleges and universities — and even states and the federal government — are shifting financial aid from lower-income to higher-income students. This has created a system that spends the least on those who need the most help and the most on those who arguably need the least. While almost all the students who go to selective institutions such as Trinity graduate and get good jobs, many students from the poorest families end up even worse off than they started out, struggling to repay loans they took out to pay for degrees they never get.

Instead of raising people up, “Today in many ways the system is exacerbating inequality,” said Suzanne Mettler, a government professor at Cornell University and author of Degrees of Inequality: Why Opportunity Has Diminished in U.S. Higher Education. “It’s creating something of a caste system that for too many people takes them from wherever they were on the socioeconomic spectrum and leaves them even more unequal.”

Click here to read the full report.

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