Higher Ed in the News: 5/24

Photo by Max Böttinger on Unsplash.

This week, two stories providing data around the disparities that exist for outcomes in higher education. You can read previous editions of this series here.

The disadvantages “nontraditional” students face

While many people think of a young adult aged 18-22 when they think of a college student, many other ages and profiles of people are pursuing their bachelor’s degree. Unfortunately, these individuals are concentrated in schools with fewer resources and also don’t have the same educational attainment as others. This inequity affects adult learners, low-income students and students of color most profoundly, according to a report by the Pell Institute written up by Sara Weissman of Inside Higher Ed.

The report found that 40% of students who are financing their own education without parental help are enrolled in community colleges, according to 2016 data, while over 70% of adult learners without dependents and 80% of adult learners with dependents were in open or nonselective two-year or four-year institutions. The report notes that almost half of adult learners have not earned a degree or are no longer enrolled after six years.

“There are so many things about older students that, if we knew about them, we would address,” Maureen Hoyler, president of the Council for Opportunity in Education, said. “We’d figure out how to block their schedules, we’d figure out how to make sure they had backup transportation. It’s so much easier to talk about traditional-age students, even traditional-age, low-income students and students from underrepresented backgrounds.”

More broadly, the report found that the more selective a school is, the less likely it is to have Pell Grant recipients among the student body. It also pointed out racial disparities in the amount of debt that White and Black students graduate with.

Pew: First-generation students lag behind

Continuing in the theme of disparities in higher education, a recent Pew Center research study has quantified the disparate outcomes for first-generation college graduates. In addition to being more likely to get a college degree, those graduates whose parents have a bachelor’s degree are also earning more and accumulating more wealth.

“Among household heads who have at least a bachelor’s degree, those who have a parent with a bachelor’s degree or more education have substantially higher incomes and more wealth than those who are the first generation in their family to graduate from college,” the report said.

The median household income for households headed by a first-generation college graduate is $99,600, while the income for households headed by a second-generation graduate is $135,800. Additionally, those with a college-educated parent are more likely to attend a four-year college, attend a selective college, and also slightly more likely to attend a private college. In the long run, these advantages include lower likelihood of having debt and higher likelihood of inheriting money, and so wealth accumulation is also impacted, as outlined in the study.