Given recent discussions here on education as a response to globalization, I am interested if access to higher education has become more difficult over time for middle and low income students. I went to two colleagues in our Department who specialize in research on educational issues, particularly higher education, to see if they could point me to research on higher education access by income level and how it might have changed over time. They have done some work with internal data here that is suggestive but does not ask this question directly. For example, we give Dean's scholarships to anyone from Oregon with a high school GPA above a cutoff (one of the two people I talked to is the Dean). There is quite a bit of research on these scholarships, for example some results say that high school students take easier courses in order to ensure the scholarship, a negative educational outcome, and there are also results showing that the acceptance rates for these scholarships are lower for middle income and poor students, all else equal. This suggests that even with the scholarships, costs are prohibitively high for lower income students and they elect not to attend (they may still go to college, e.g. a junior college). My colleagues also gave me a book, Refinancing the College Dream: Access, Equal Opportunity, and Justice for Taxpayers, by Edward P. St. John in collaboration with Eric H. Asker, John Hopkins University Press, 2003 that is a fairly recent study on these issues. Here's a table from that book:
Table 2.2 Trends in Percentage Enrollment of 18-24 Year-Old High School Graduates by Race/Ethnicity, Showing Opportunity Gaps, 1970-1999
Sources: NCES 2000a, 216, table 187. The numbers in the table are percentages.
The gap is the difference in attendance rates relative to whites. If you are willing to let race/ethnicity proxy for income, understanding it is an
imperfect measure (see page 25 in the text for a discussion of this), this table
indicates that poorer students do not attend at the same rate as higher income
students, on average, a problem that has not improved with time. There does
appear to be a difference in access by income. Though the numbers hint in this direction, it appears harder to make the
case, with this table anyway, that access has become more difficult over
time. I plan to do more posts based on the data in the book and elsewhere that will
give more information, at least indirectly, on this issue. One final comment. Only 43.7% of 18-24 year-olds enrolled in college in 1999. That means
more than half [a substantial portion] of our population does not have more than a high school education [Update: The original statement needed to be amended since the 43.7% figure only refers to a seven year window of data, see the clarifying comment by John H. Bishop who notes the percentage of adults with some college, not necessarily a degree, is generally in the 50-60% range]. When I talk about education as a solution to competition from globalization, this is the group I'm most worried about.