Gap Between Rich, Poor College Completion Growing


A new report released this week has found that the education gap that exists between the rich and the poor is continuing to grow, reflecting that it is harder for low-income students to earn a college degree.

The report was put together by the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education and the Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy at the University of Pennsylvania, both of whom routinely study college costs and degree attainment. Researchers from these two groups looked at census and educational data from the last 45 years. Low-income families were considered to be those earning less than $34,000 per year, while high-income families were those who earned at least $108,650 per year, writes Karen Farkas for

The study, "Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States," found that as of 2013, students from wealthy families were eight times as likely to complete a degree program by age 24 than those students from low-income families. That statistic has increased from 1970 when wealthy students were five times as likely to earn a college degree.

According to the study, the rate of bachelor degree attainment has almost doubled since 1970 for students from high-income families, rising from 40% to 77%. That percentage has not increased nearly as much for low-income students, rising from only 6% to 9%.

In addition, the Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the U.S. – 45 Year Trend Report showed that students and families paid for 33% of higher education costs in 1980. That percentage increased to nearly 50% as of 2012 due to the increasing costs associated with obtaining a degree and lower levels of financial aid.

The report went on to say that about 75% of undergraduates need to borrow money in order to attend a four-year institution. That percentage has increased from around 50% over the study time period.

Meanwhile, the Pell Grant now only covers about one-fourth of college costs, dropping from the three-fourths it used to cover. In addition, state and local contributions now only cover about one-third of college revenue. Those contributions used to cover about 50% in 1970.

"The disinvestment of state funds for public colleges and universities occurring since the 1980s and the declining value of federal student grant aid have all aided in the creation of a higher education system that is stained with inequality," the report says.

"Once known for wide accessibility to and excellence within its higher education system, the U.S. now has an educational system that serves to sort students in ways related to later life chances based on their demographic characteristics rather than provide all youth with the opportunity to use their creative potential to realize the many benefits of higher education and advance the well-being and progress of the nation."

The report was released at the same time that President Obama is asking to make the first two years of community college tuition-free, which would allow around 9 million students the opportunity to enter higher education, writes Michael Muskal for LA Times.

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