Well-off children are six times more likely to attend elite colleges

Kylie Lacey's picture
Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Children whose parents are in professional or managerial jobs are six times more likely to attend elite American private colleges than those whose parents are working class, according to a study by Dr. John Jerrim for The Sutton Trust. They are also three times more likely to go to a highly selective college, including public universities.

The author found that children from disadvantaged economic backgrounds only make up one in 20 students enrolled in highly selective colleges, while those from advantaged backgrounds account for more than half of them.

While academic achievement plays some role in the disparity, it can’t explain the whole gap. “Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are much less likely to develop the advanced cognitive skills required to enter a high status university,” the report notes, as evidenced by less than 3 percent reaching a high score on the PISA reading test compared to 15 percent of children from the most advantaged backgrounds. But that achievement gap only explains 60 percent of the gap in attending selective public colleges and less than half of the gap in elite private college attendance in the U.S. “This suggests that there are significant numbers of working class children who, even though they have the academic ability to attend, choose to enter a non-selective institution instead,” the report concludes.

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