As the cost of attending top four-year college marches relentlessly higher, students from higher-income households are doing just fine: Their family incomes are matching the increase in tuition, fees, room and board. And lower-income students are faring pretty well, too: Scholarships and financial aid cover most of the rising costs. So, if the affluent and the poor aren’t suffering, who is feeling the pain? The middle class.
A new report by the American Enterprise Institute shows that the big losers from the higher-education business model for leading four-year institutions — aggressive increases in tuition and other expenses offset by generous financial aid for lower-income students — has suppressed college attendance by the middle class.
“We find that, contrary to popular perceptions, the share of students at the 200 more selective colleges who are from low-income families did not decline over the period we studied,” write Jason D. Delisle and Preston Cooper in “Low-Income Students at Selective Colleges: Disappearing or Holding Steady?”
After factoring in grant and scholarship aid, annual net tuition prices at selective colleges have increased by only $11,358 for low-income students since 1999-2000, after adjusting for inflation. For high-income students, the increase was $8,162. …
The strongest trend in the data is a decline in the share of students in the middle two income quartiles. In other words, the enrollment gains of high-income students in the mid-2000s came at the expense of middle-income students.
This trend has received relatively little attention from the education community and the national media. It suggests that the narrative regarding income stratification at selective colleges is only half right. Enrollment at selective colleges has changed over time, but it is middle-income students, not low-income students, are becoming less represented on these campuses.
In the 1999-2000 academic year, 39% of the students enrolled at the top 200 institutions came from the second and third income quartiles. By the 2015-16 academic year, the percentage had fallen to 29%.
Bacon’s bottom line: If you wonder why the American middle class is feeling all cranky and out of sorts, is voting for crazy candidates, and seems immune to the what’s-the-matter-with-Kansas narratives peddled by the intellectual elites, it’s because of things like this. Upper-income Americans are paying more for tuition than ever — but they can afford it. Their incomes are increasing, too. Lower-income Americans are treated with great solicitude by college administrations and boards of trustees (comprised overwhelmingly by handsomely paid elites) and given huge breaks on their tuition. The middle class, especially the second quartile (as can be seen in the graph above) is left sucking hind teat.
Combine what’s happening in higher ed with what’s happening in health care, another sector where costs are running out of control. Affluent Americans are insulated from rising medical costs because their incomes are rising. Meanwhile, the political class extends its solicitude to lower-income Americans by expanding Medicaid. What does the middle class get? Not much of anything.
Similar arguments can be advanced for the effects of energy policy, foreign trade, immigration policy and more. Then toss in the insufferable smugness, arrogance and moral condescension of elite opinion makers, and it’s no wonder so many working- and middle-class Americans feel alienated from the political status quo. It explains a lot about what’s happening in the country today.There are currently no comments highlighted.