Tuition and load burdens fall particularly heavily on students from low-income families. Even after grant aid from all sources is included, they must find a way to finance an amount equivalent to 76 percent of their family income, while the highest-income students have to set aside only 17 percent of their family income.
Add it all together and what you end up with is very different degree-acquisition rates for different groups of young Americans. For every 100 white kindergartners, roughly 90 end up with a high school diploma and, of those, 40 get at least a bachelor’s degree. But the bachelor’s numbers for African-American students are roughly one-half those of white students, and they’re even worse among Latinos. In 2014, 15 percent of Latinos and 22 percent of African Americans ages 25–29 held at least a bachelor’s degree.
There is also a large gap in degree attainment by family income. Students from high-income families are roughly three times as likely as students from low-income families to obtain a bachelor’s degree 8 years after leaving high school. While 54 percent of young people from the highest income quartile are able to earn a bachelor’s degree, only 17 percent of young people from the bottom income quartile do the same.
Below are three questions that board members can ask to understand whether their institution is an engine of opportunity—or an engine of inequality, with very few students from working-class or low-income families. (To see all 10 questions, visit the full article.)
- How well do our entering freshmen reflect state (or regional) demographics? Every board member should understand whether the students enrolled in their institutions represent the racial and economic diversity of their regions. Campus administrators should be asked to provide data comparing first-year students with the demography—both racial and economic—of the previous year’s high-school graduating class.
- How well do our entering transfer students reflect local demographics? Generally, entering transfers can be compared either with local community college enrollments or, even better, with the population of young adults with at least a high-school diploma. These data are typically readily available from public sources.
- What do trend data tell us? Are we getting closer over time? Often, more selective institutions will have some distance to go. Board members will want to make sure both that their institutions have goals to close any gaps and that they are directing resources to that end.
Image Credit: Dung Hoang