The Generation Gap
Mobility stagnates as college access and financial aid policy shift
April 20, 2006 8:58 PM
Most parents want to be able to look their child in the eye and say, honestly, that they can be anything they want when they grow up: president, astronaut, CEO of a multi-national conglomerate.
“Sorry, but no,” he answered.
Bernstein, who is currently directing the Living Standards program for the Economic Policy Institute, continued to say studies have shown that most people, close to three quarters, stay in the same class they were born into.
He also said the United States has fallen behind countries like France, Canada, and Denmark, whose social welfare systems make them traditionally stagnant, in terms of mobility.
And the problem may be getting worse.
“The rate of mobility hasn’t grown at all over the years,” he said. “If anything, there’s evidence that where you start out is now more closely tied to where you end up.”
This sounds like stability, but when you take into account that the prices of many essential goods and services like higher education, healthcare and housing have grown much faster than inflation, both Generation X and Generation Y are falling behind, she said.
According to Draut, education, and particularly higher education are prerequisites for entrance into the middle class.
“Education is the cornerstone of social mobility,” said Draut at an event in February. “The US has relied on education as the prime engine of moving up the ladder. When we don’t invest, we see a breakdown in mobility.”
Donald Matthewson, professor of political science at California State University, Fullerton, agrees that education is the "key variable" for determining economic mobility.
"It doesn't even matter where you go to college, where you get your degree, as long as you get the degree," he said, referring to a recent study.
"The problem is that those students in the bottom 20th economic percentile, their chances of going to any four-year college is minimal," said Matthewson.
The cost of a college education is rising much faster than financial aid assistance, there continues to be a gap in college preparation between high- and low-income students, and there has been a shift in financial aid to favor “merit-based” grants, which are based on grade-point average, and loans, versus “need-based” grants, which are based on family income.
According to Barbara Hubler, director of financial aid at SF State, one of the major issues affecting access is the fact that the federal government has not increased funding for Pell Grants, which are distributed based strictly on financial need, in years.
“The government is being very stingy with resources for education,” said Hubler.
Hubler added that the small size of grants and the reality that many students have to take private loans to pay for college might scare some students away from four-year institutions or delay their entrance.
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