Students at the nation’s top 468 colleges are the beneficiaries of much more spending — anywhere from two to five times as much as what is spent on instruction at community colleges or other schools without admissions requirements. And students at top schools are far more likely to graduate than students at other institutions, even when they are equally prepared, according to the report. In addition, graduates of top schools are far more likely than others to go on to graduate school.
The financial implications of those differences are huge: A worker with an advanced degree is expected to earn as much as $2.1 million more in his or her lifetime than a college dropout, the report said. Also, the report said graduates of selective colleges earn an average of $67,000 a year 10 years after graduation, about $18,000 a year more than their counterparts who graduate from non-selective schools.
“The American postsecondary system increasingly has become a dual system of racially separate pathways, even as overall minority access to the postsecondary system has grown dramatically,” said Jeff Strohl, the Georgetown center’s director of research, who co-authored the report.
The report focused on a comparison of whites with Hispanic and African American students. Data on the experiences of Asian American and Native American students were too limited for an identical analysis, the authors said.
The report raises disturbing questions about the efficacy of
higher-education policies pursued by a long line of presidents aiming to encourage more Americans to attend college. President Obama has talked about improved access to higher education as a means of combating the nation’s growing income inequality. But the Georgetown report illustrates that higher education is doing more to replicate inequality than to eliminate it.
For that to change, the authors said, policymakers need to work harder to make the experience at non-selective schools more like that at selective ones. That means more spending for those schools, which often struggle with crowded classes and outdated equipment. It also would mean added financial support for students at non-selective schools, who spend more hours working and dealing with family responsibilities than students at selective colleges.
“It is a good-news, bad-news story,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, the report’s other author and director of Georgetown’s workforce center. “Access is up, and inequality is growing a lot with it. And the two are intimately connected.”
Between 1995 and 2009, freshman college enrollment more than doubled for Hispanics while increasing 73 percent for African Americans and 15 percent for whites, who represent a shrinking share of the college-age population.