New Report Finds Gaps Persist in Higher Education Enrollment

June 23, 2020

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Title: Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States: 2020 Historical Trend Report

Authors: Margaret Cahalan, Laura W. Perna, Marisha Addison, Chelsea Murray, Pooja Patel, & Nathan Jiang

Source: The Pell Institute for the Study of Higher Education and Penn Ahead

The Pell Institute for the Study of Higher Education and Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy at the University of Pennsylvania (PENN AHEAD) recently released a joint 2020 Indicators of Higher Education Equity report. The report discusses trends and demographics on who enrolls in college and where students of different backgrounds enroll, changes in cost, pricing, and financial aid, and how socio-economic differences affect educational attainment.

Some key findings from the report include:

  • A persistent college enrollment gap exists between students from the lowest- and highest-income brackets. Specifically, 75 percent of students ages 18 to 24 from the highest income bracket enrolled in college, compared with only 51 percent of their peers from the lowest-income bracket.
  • After accounting for financial aid received, paying for the remaining cost of college takes increasingly large proportions of household income for low-income families and students. For a low-income household, the net college cost for a dependent full-time undergraduate student was equivalent to:
    • 45 percent of household income in 1990.
    • 56 percent of household income in 2008.
    • 96 percent of household income in 2016.
  • At the same time, the federal Pell grant continues to diminish in its ability to cover the average cost of college. While the maximum Pell grant awarded in 1975-76 covered 67 percent of the average cost of college at the time, in 2018-19, the maximum Pell award covered only 25 percent of that cost.

The 2020 report also includes essays, which examine how institutional responses and abrupt technological shifts related to the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted inequities among and between student groups, and how the crisis may exacerbate these inequities.

To read the full report, please click here.

—Charles Sanchez

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