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Washington Post: The talent is out there

Martin Kurzweil of Ithaka S+R and Josh Wyner respond to an American Enterprise Institute report on enrolling low- and middle-income students in selective institutions.

The American Enterprise Institute recently released a report that claimed that America’s selective colleges have held steady in their enrollment of low-income students, while seeing a decline in middle-income students. Though it is not stated directly, the authors seem to be saying that colleges should shift their attention from low-income to middle-income students. Also implied is that as long as colleges continue to enroll the same share of low-income students, they’re doing enough. Maintaining the status quo, however, isn’t enough.

In fact, both low- and middle-income students are severely underrepresented at selective institutions. The report presents a false trade-off that diverts attention from the real issue: Students in the top income bracket are extraordinarily overrepresented at our nation’s most selective colleges and universities.

In a massive study last year relying on data from federal tax returns, Stanford University professor Raj Chetty and his colleagues found that a majority of students at many selective colleges were from the top fifth of the income distribution. In fact, at 38 highly selective U.S. colleges and universities, more students came from families with earnings in the top 1 percent of the income distribution than from those in the bottom 60 percent. Delisle and Cooper’s analysis of more recent data confirms that this overrepresentation persists. …