A persistent problem with trying to analyze higher education is a lack of information about student financial resources. Fortunately, IPEDS has recently started to release some to this information. It’s not perfect, as it only counts “full-time, first-time degree/certificate-seeking undergraduates paying the in-state or in-district tuition rate who received Title IV federal student aid,” but it is leaps and bounds better than what we had before, which was nothing.
The first chart below simply plots the percent of aid recipients from families with incomes greater than $110,000 versus the percent of aid recipients from families with incomes less than $30,000. It is clear that there are pretty dramatic differences based on the type of college, so the second chart reports each sector separately (including a best fit [LOESS] curve).
We learn (and confirm) a few things from these charts.
First, the high concentrations of low-income students at for-profit, four-year colleges and public two-year colleges indicates these institutions are doing the heavy lifting in promoting equality of opportunity as it relates to a college education.
Second, the LOESS curves all have a negative slope, starting steep and gradually flattening out. The negative slope isn’t much of a surprise—after all, if you are admitting more rich students, there are fewer spaces for poor students. But the steepness of the slope is a bit surprising: small increases in the percent of students from high-income families lead to dramatic falls in the percent of students from low-income families. This is an indication that higher education is divided into high-poverty and low-poverty colleges to a disturbing degree.
Third, high-income students are rare at for-profit, four-year colleges and public two-year colleges. In contrast, having more than one-third of students come from families making more than $110,000 is not uncommon among private, nonprofit, four-year colleges. There are even 15 of these colleges where more than 50 percent of aid recipients are from families that make more than $110,000.