Equity in Higher Education
Equity in Higher Education
In the United States, higher education has yielded considerable value to individuals and society. The societal benefits of higher education include knowledge creation, economic well-being and productivity of citizens, and direct expenditures by the institutions, their employees, and their students, which impact local economies. Education has long been an essential foundation of democracy. The extent to which citizens are afforded equal educational opportunity is often considered indicative of a society's power relations. While greater educational attainment has been found to be important to society, historically most attention has been on its implications for the mobility and opportunities afforded to individuals.
The benefits of postsecondary education for individuals include knowledge acquisition, an appreciation for learning and the fine arts, and refinement of social discourse skills. Further, one compelling reasons for college attendance for many is its ability to afford social mobility. Consider the economic benefits: In the United States, educational attainment is strongly correlated with individual earnings, better quality of life, and economic security. In 2003, the typical full-time year-round worker in the United States with a 4-year college degree earned $49,900, 62% more than the $30,800 earned by the typical full-time year-round worker with only a high school diploma (College Board, 2005). Those with master's degrees earned almost twice as much, and those with professional degrees earned over three times as much per year as high school graduates. The gap in earnings between college degree holders and those with only a high school diploma are estimated to result in a gap of more than $1 million over a lifetime.
It is important to understand how higher education also promotes stratification and inequality because of an uneven distribution of educational opportunity. Along with the opportunities inherently tied to higher education attainment, there are also historical and continuing legacies of limited access, opportunity, and stratification. More specifically, opportunities for higher education can vary, and it is important to consider what factors have determined who goes where to college, and why many individuals in America do not attend college.
This chapter explores the relationship between student access and higher education stratification through an examination of major historical developments in higher education and an analysis of trends in U.S. social mobility that have resulted from postsecondary opportunity. This discussion is placed in a larger context of how higher education institutions and programs have changed, including the varying patterns of student enrollment, and considers contemporary and future trends that impact access and participation. These developments and trends will allow us to evaluate how well this system has...