As more students continue to enroll in college and earn degrees, inequalities in U.S. higher education opportunity are increasing, according to the Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States — 2019 Historical Trend Report. Growing stratification by family income in whether and where students go to college, and if they will graduate, sorts students in ways that profoundly affect their ability to develop their talents and earn a living wage in a global economy. The annual report is published by the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Education (Pell Institute) of the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) and the University of Pennsylvania Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy (PennAHEAD).
Among this year’s key findings:From the report:
- There are large, growing differences in college attainment rates among states. In 2015, B.A. attainment rates for 25-34 year olds ranged from 22 percent in the lowest attainment states to more than twice that — 51% — in Massachusetts. [#5f(v)]
- In 2017, parents and students were responsible for 48 percent of higher education expenditures, up from around 33 percent from 1975 to 1981. State and local sources accounted for just 42 percent of higher education expenditures in 2017, down from 58 in 1975. [#4a(i)]
- In 2017, estimated bachelor’s degree attainment rates by age 24 were 4.8 times higher for dependent family members in the highest income quartile than for those in the lowest income quartile (62% v. 13%). [#5a(i)]
- Despite an increase in overall enrollment, representation of students from low-income families at the nation’s most selective institutions is low, and relatively unchanged from 20 years ago.
- Among 9th graders in 2009 who graduated high school in 2013, those in the highest socioeconomic quintile were 8 times as likely to attend a most or highly selective college as students from the lower quintile. [#2f]
- Nationwide, about 42 percent of college students have some amount of Pell or other federal grants while about 16 percent of students at the most selective schools have such grants. About 2/3 of students at for-profit institutions have Pell or other federal grants. [#2e]
- In the mid 1970’s Pell Grants covered 2/3 of average college costs. By 2017 the maximum Pell covered 25 percent of average costs, down from 67 percent in 1976. [#3b(ii)]
- In 2016 average net price of college (after grants and discounts) was 94 percent of the average family income for dependent students in the lowest income quartile; it was 14 percent of average family income for students in the highest income quartile. In 1990, average net price was 45 percent of family income for dependent students in the lowest quartile and 10 percent for the highest quartile. [#4b(ii)]
- Students who are both low income and first generation who enter college have a 21 percent chance of earning a bachelor’s degree in six years. Their peers who are not low-income or first generation have a 57 percent chance. [#5c(ii)]
- More students have been borrowing more since 1990. In the 1990’s just over half of bachelor’s degree recipients borrowed; by 2016 70 percent borrowed. The average amount for graduating seniors has risen to $30,000.
- Black bachelor’s degree recipients have the highest borrowing rates (85 percent) and the highest average amount borrowed ($34,000). [#4c and #4d]
- These shifts happened at a time when 37 percent of Black families and 33 percent of Hispanic families had negative wealth (owing more than they owned), compared with 16 percent of white families. [p. 29]
Using the OECD classifications described above and excluding those countries that did not separately report bachelor’s degree attainment, in 2017 Lithuania (56 percent) had the highest rate of bachelor’s degree attainment among the 25- to 34-year-old population. The U.S. ranked 2nd out of 30 countries on this indicator in 2000 (with a 30 percent attainment rate), but 17th out of the 41 countries reporting bachelor’s degree attainment in 2017 (with a 37 percent attainment rate). In 2017, the bachelor’s degree attainment rate of the U.S. was the same as the average for all OECD nations reporting these data. Equity Indicator 6a shows that each of the countries that ranked above the U.S. in 2017 (and reported data in both 2000 and 2017) had attainment rates for 25- to 34-year-olds below that of the U.S. in 2000 (30 percent). These countries were Luxembourg, Korea, Iceland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, United Kingdom, Poland, Denmark, Greece, Finland, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan. The rate of increase in bachelor’s degree attainment in the U.S. was lower than the average rate of increase among countries that now have higher attainment rates than the U.S. In the U.S., the percentage of adults age 25 to 34 with at least a bachelor’s degree increased by 23 percent between 2000 and 2017. For countries with higher rates of bachelor’s degree attainment than the U.S. in 2017, the average rate of increase in attainment between 2000 and 2017 was 140 percent.