You hear a lot about the financial ramifications of income inequality: difficulty saving, major gaps in overall wealth accumulation, and a shrinking middle class. But the gap between America’s richest and poorest families also has a major impact on the ability to achieve educational goals, which can create long-lasting and detrimental consequences for low-income families.
A recent study from the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education and the University of Pennsylvania Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy (AHEAD) took a look at the educational achievement of students aged 18 to 24 from different income brackets over the past 45 years. The researchers found that when it comes to completing higher-education degrees, the gap between the rich and the poor has actually grown significantly.
In 2013, Americans in the highest-income bracket, defined as those households that made over $108,650 in 2012, were more than eight times more likely to have graduated from a bachelor’s-degree program than the lowest-income Americans, defined as households that made less than $34,160 in 2012. In 1970, the higher-income group was five times more likely to have hit this educational milestone. The rate of bachelor’s attainment in the most well-off families has grown from about 40 percent in 1970, to just about 77 percent in 2013. In contrast, for students whose families fall in the lowest 25 percent of earners, attainment has barely risen, moving from 6 percent in 1970 to 9 percent in 2013. While many factors play a role in the faster pace of achievement growth for top earners, higher levels of college preparation and better financial resources certainly help.