Low-Income Students at Selective Colleges: Disappearing or Holding Steady?
Delisle, Jason D.
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Alarming stories about increasing economic stratification at America’s selective colleges frequently appear in the news media. But this genre of education journalism comes with several caveats. Much of the research on economic stratification at selective colleges relies on data with limitations that tend to restrict how comprehensively or accurately studies can assess the incomes of students enrolled at selective universities, particularly over time. In this report, the authors set out to address some of the limitations in the literature on enrollment at selective universities and test the popular narratives related to this topic. They use a data set that few researchers have enlisted for this type of analysis, the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, and they define selective colleges as the 200 most selective public and private institutions nationally. They also conduct a separate analysis for public flagship universities. The authors do not find evidence that the share of students enrolled at these 200 institutions who are from the lowest income quartile declined during the years covered in their study.