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Wasted Human Capital

A Georgetown University study of the class of 2010 at the country’s 193 most selective colleges found that as entering freshmen, only 15 percent of students came from the bottom half of the income distribution.  Sixty-seven percent came from the highest-earning fourth of the distribution. These statistics mean that on many campuses affluent students outnumber middle-class students.

“We claim to be part of the American dream and of a system based on merit and opportunity and talent,” Mr. Anthony Marx, a political scientist and president of Amherst College, says. “Yet if at the top places, two-thirds of the students come from the top quartile and only 5 percent come from the bottom quartile, then we are actually part of the problem of the growing economic divide rather than part of the solution.”

For all of the ways that top colleges have become diverse, their student bodies remain shockingly affluent.  At the University of Michigan, more entering freshmen in 2003 came from families earning at least $200,000 a year than came from the entire bottom half of the income distribution.  At some private colleges, the numbers were even more extreme.

The truth is that many of the most capable low and middle-income students attend community colleges or less selective four-year colleges close to their home.  Doing so makes them less likely to graduate from college at all,research has shown. Incredibly, only 44 percent of low-income high school seniors with high standardized test scores enroll in a four-year college, according to a Century Foundation report — compared with about 50 percent of high-income seniors who have average test scores.  (Go here for more)