Obtaining a college degree has grown more difficult for low-income students compared to wealthier counterparts, report says

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By Karen Farkas, Northeast Ohio Media Group  Follow on Twitter
on February 05, 2015 at 11:47 AM, updated February 05, 2015 at 1:20 PM

02GlettersCLEVELAND, Ohio – The inequity between the ability of students from high- and low-income families to earn a college degree continues to grow, according to a new report.

In 2013, students from wealthier families were eight times more likely than poorer students to earn a degree by age 24, according to the report by the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education and the Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1970, wealthier students were five times more likely to earn a degree by 24.

Researchers examined 45 years of census and educational data. Low-income families earned $34,000 or less a year and high-income families earned $108,650 a year or more.

They wrote that the rate of obtaining a bachelor’s degree has nearly doubled since 1970 for those from high-income families – rising from 40 percent to 77 percent. But bachelor’s degree attainment rates for students from low-income families have risen only slightly – from 6 percent in 1970 to 9 percent in 2013.

Students and families paid for 33 percent of the cost of higher-education in 1980, according to the Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the U.S. – 45 Year Trend Report. But they paid about 50 percent of the cost in 2012 due to rising college costs and lower financial aid.

About 75 percent of undergraduates must borrow money to attend a four-year institution compared to about 50 percent over the study period, the report says.

The value of the maximum Pell Grant, which onced covered two-thirds of the average cost of college has shrunk to one-quarter. State and local contributions now provide just over a third of college revenue, down from half in 1970.

“The disinvestment of state funds for public colleges and universities occurring since the 1980s and the declining value of federal student grant aid have all aided in the creation of a higher education system that is stained with inequality,” the report says.

“Once known for wide accessibility to and excellence within its higher education system, the U.S. now has an educational system that serves to sort students in ways related to later life chances based on their demographic characteristics rather than provide all youth with the opportunity to use their creative potential to realize the many benefits of higher education and advance the well-being and progress of the nation.”