William & Mary Conference on Higher Education and Social Mobility
The American higher education system may reinforce income inequality instead of social mobility. The conference explores how we might change this outcome.
In the 1970s the United States was a more middle class society. Since that time, the gains from economic growth have flowed mostly to the wealthiest fifth of families, and the income of the bottom forty percent has stagnated. Higher education can be a force for social mobility if it opens opportunities for students from lower income families, but the system can be inequality’s enforcer if it does not. At present, students from high-income families are more likely to go to college than their lower-income peers. They are also more likely to attend highly selective resource-rich colleges, and far more likely to graduate. These students maintain their place at the top of the income distribution. Lower-income students are more likely maintain their place in the lower rungs of the income distribution.
This conference will investigate ways in which we might be able to change this dynamic. Can financial aid programs do a better job of buffering the effects of worsening income inequality? Are there any tools that state and federal policymakers might use to improve the college completion of lower income students? Are there ways to get more low-income students into the selective schools that have the resources to help these students succeed? Can higher education be the engine of social mobility it is supposed to be?
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