Broken Ladder: Higher Ed’s Role in Social Mobility
One estimate says two-thirds of new job openings require education beyond high school. Yet less than 15 percent of students from the lowest socioeconomic bracket earn a bachelor’s degree by age 24, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
In this occasional series, undertaken with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Chronicle examines what colleges and universities can do to change that, and what’s standing in their way.
A Crusade Against Terrible Advising
What needs to change? Read more about the crusade for better advising.
As Covid-19 cases spike in his state, Delgado plans to stay home and take classes at the nearby College of Central Florida. It will cost him a third of what the university would. Still, he says it hurts to “know I’m going to stay local at the college I didn’t need to do all the fancy things for.” He wanted to set an example for his siblings.
If even half the high-school graduates who say they’re reconsidering a four-year college decide to postpone it, or switch to a two-year institution, the repercussions will reverberate across the economy, affecting them, their families, and institutions nationwide. What are colleges doing to persuade them to come? Learn more.
Why Covid-19 Could Force Colleges to Fix Their Transfer Problems
As their families face a sudden loss of income, undergraduates at out-of-state or private institutions are taking another look at less-expensive public regional colleges and community colleges where they can continue their studies closer to home. A flood of transfers is even more likely if courses remain mostly online.
But every pivot in a student’s education path opens up cracks where credits can fall through, lowering the likelihood they’ll complete a degree. At the same time, the stakes have never been higher for colleges to attract and retain their students. Could the pandemic finally force repairs to the transfer system? Read more.
“Wi-Fi is not at the top of your list of needs,” says their college counselor, Sanjay Mitchell, “when you’ve got to figure out how to eat and keep the lights on.”
The pandemic is revealing the breadth of education’s digital divide. But many low-income students face challenges that go well beyond a lack of computers and connectivity. Even a strong wireless signal is a poor substitute for all the support structures that schools provided. Read more about how Mitchell is trying to keep his students connected.
Covid-19 Is a Pivotal Moment for Struggling Students. Can Colleges Step Up?
The Wesleyan University freshman is a first-generation student from a low-income family, who spent part of high school living in a car. The replacement of residential learning with online education presents her with more than just a rough patch. It is a time of extraordinary stress.
Colleges that have raised graduation rates for low-income students like Ouanemalay have often relied on wraparound services: care for their financial and mental health, and a network of support with cohorts, early interventions, and extra counseling. A “high touch” learning environment, as many advocates call it.
But how do you do high touch in what has suddenly become a “no touch” world? Read more here.
How to Make College A Better Bet
To explore how to lift more people’s prospects, The Chronicle brought together a campus leader, a public official, a researcher, and a college counselor. We discussed structural inequalities, expectations of students and their motivation to enroll in college, and the kind of support they actually need.
Read and watch excerpts from our conversation.
The Barriers to Mobility
To understand how we got here, we need to look back to a time when the idea of mobility via a college degree became part of the American Dream, and then how that dream curdled, and what, if anything, higher education can do to fulfill its promise of opportunity.
How 3 Colleges Make Mobility a Reality
But data show that a few higher-education institutions are consistently successful at giving many undergraduates from low-income families a solid chance at financial security and a better life.
Here we examine three institutions — a large Midwestern public university, a historically black college, and a career-focused nautical academy — and how they provide students with “intrusive” assistance, job readiness, and the essential confidence that, yes, despite the many obstacles, they can succeed.
Broken Ladder is a yearlong project to examine the role that higher education plays in social mobility. It is supported by a grant of $149,994 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has no role in our editorial decision-making.
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(Correction, 1/6/2020, 9:30 a.m.: An earlier version of this article incorrectly gave the grant amount as $199,994. The article has been updated.)