Mobility Report Cards: The Role of Colleges in Intergenerational Mobility
Friedman, John N.
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In this article, the authors characterize intergenerational income mobility at each college in the United States using data for over 30 million college students from 1999-2013. They document four findings. First, access to colleges varies greatly by parent income. Second, children from low and high-income families have similar earnings outcomes conditional on the college they attend, indicating that low-income students are not mismatched at selective colleges. Third, rates of upward mobility – the fraction of students who come from families in the bottom income quintile and reach the top quintile – differ substantially across colleges because low-income access varies significantly across colleges with similar earnings outcomes. Fourth, the fraction of students from low-income families did not change substantially between 2000-2011 at elite private colleges, but fell sharply at colleges with the highest rates of bottom-to-top-quintile mobility. Although the descriptive analysis does not identify colleges’ causal effects on students’ outcomes, the publicly available statistics constructed here highlight colleges that deserve further study as potential engines of upward mobility.