In case you ever wondered just how much wealthy students dominate America's top colleges, here's a nice illustration from a new report by the Century Foundation. At the most selective schools in the country,* 70 percent of students come from the wealthiest quarter of U.S. families. Just 14 percent come from the poorest half. And while these statistics date back to 2006, I think it's safe to say they haven't changed greatly in the last few years.
If you think higher education should be a ladder for upward mobility, then you should regard these numbers as a disgrace. As we've written before at The Atlantic, elite colleges do a consistently poor job recruiting the intelligent but low-income high school students who could benefit most from a top-notch education. Part of their problem, as Josh Freedman explained for us recently, is that it's expensive. Low-income undergrads need financial aid, and many institutions either don't have the resources, or would simply prefer to deploy them elsewhere. Others have the money and are willing to use it, but aren't sufficiently aggressive about reaching out to a population of students who often don't realize they have the academic skills to attend a great school or that aid would cover most of their expenses.