|Does a College Education Help All
Higher education has been a dream for generations of men and women all
over the world.
Many people consider higher education a major step on the path towards
Most high-paying jobs require a college or university degree. And
parents often begin saving for their children’s college years when they
are still young.
But does higher education improve the lives of all people in the same
People have long called college the ‘great equalizer,’ meaning it gives
students from all backgrounds the same opportunities or similar chances
A study released in February 2017 supports this idea. The study comes
from a research program called the Equality of Opportunity Project. It
is operated by Stanford University and other top schools in the United
In the study, researchers examined tax records from about 30 million
U.S. college students and their families. The tax records were from the
years 1999 to 2013. The researchers then compared the earnings of
families before their children went to college to the income of
individual students about 10 years after they completed their studies.
The findings may not come as a surprise to some.
For example, it showed a degree from an ‘Ivy League’ or other highly
selective school helps students from low income families a great deal.
Ivy League is a term for eight private universities in the northeastern
United States. Many people consider them to be among the best for higher
education in the world.
Two of the eight, Columbia University and Cornell University, are in New
York State. The others are Brown University in Rhode Island; Dartmouth
College in New Hampshire; Harvard University in Massachusetts; the
University of Pennsylvania; Princeton University in New Jersey; and Yale
University in Connecticut.
The study found that about 60 percent of the lowest income students at
Ivy League schools earned as much as students from the highest income
families later in life. But the high cost and intense level of
competition to attend one of these schools can be a barrier for many
What may be more interesting is what less widely known colleges can do,
says Niklas Flamang. He is a doctoral degree candidate in economics at
Flamang says the study identified 10 less selective universities that
also helped large numbers of students escape poverty. The State
University of New York at Stony Brook is one example. Fifty-one percent
of Stony Brook students from the lowest income group entered the highest
income group sometime after graduating.
Flamang says this proves that any given college can be a tool for
"From a societal perspective, these universities really contribute to
economic mobility in the sense that they both admit a large share of low
income students, and also provide excellent outcomes for these low
However, there are other issues to consider. The study notes that Ivy
League and other top schools are less likely to admit students from
low-income families. On average, a young person from the highest income
background is 77 percent more likely to attend one of these schools than
someone from the lowest income background.
Also, while a college education may help almost everyone, higher income
students still have an advantage. That is the opinion of Dirk Witteveen,
a doctoral candidate at the Graduate Center of the City University of
In February, the journal Social Forces published his report on a study
of college graduates and their earnings.
Witteveen examined information from the U.S. Department of Education on
all students attending an American college or university in 1993 and
2008. He did not compare different schools or degree programs.
Instead Witteveen compared the earnings of all students 10 years after
they graduated. He found that the students born into the highest income
families still earned at least two percent more after college than
Witteveen says this is because people from wealthier families have more
connections that can help their children.
"Some families have connections within professional industries that
could lead to a good first job or a great first internship. So, more
generally, this means that class is a much wider concept than just the
amount of money that your parents earn or the amount of wealth that your
Witteveen suggests that almost no amount of education can take the place
of these special relationships. Colleges can help lower income students
by doing more to connect them with successful graduates. Also, programs
teaching skills like network-building should become part of how colleges
prepare students for the real world.
But some people would argue that college is not the only path to
Nicholas Wyman is head of the Institute for Workplace Skills and
Innovation. His company helps organizations and educators with job
training for employees.
Wyman argues that there are still many well-paying jobs that do not
require a college degree. This includes jobs in manufacturing and other
highly technical fields.
“There is no guarantee of a job,” Wyman said. “College is definitely a
pathway for some people, and there is no question that it is very
successful for many people. But for some people, there are
Many U.S. high schools once offered classes in how to repair automobiles
and other machines. But programs like these have become less and less
common over the years. Wyman says this is because many Americans do not
want their children working in positions involving physical labor. He
suggests parents should support students’ interests in these fields to
keep manufacturing jobs from leaving the country.
And, with the cost of college rising, Wyman says young people may find
the success they are looking for at a much lower price.