Giving Compass' Take:

• Research indicates that students from middle to low-income families can increase their intergenerational mobility by attending college.

• How can this research inform school districts and funders on students' futures? How can students access more resources that will help them apply to college? 

• Read how colleges are improving students' social mobility.

Inequality in the United States has been rising in recent decades, while intergenerational mobility remains low. This means that absolute mobility—the extent to which children are economically better off than their parents—is declining, and intergenerational inequality is increasingly entrenched.

A long literature suggests large returns to attending college and points to the importance of higher education for intergenerational mobility. Recent work by Opportunity Insights explores in more detail the role that different colleges play in promoting upward mobility, pointing to significant differences across colleges in the extent to which they enroll students from low-income families who have high earnings as adults. Here, we use the data produced by Opportunity Insights to focus specifically on students from middle-class families to understand patterns of attendance and upward mobility for the middle class.

Building on the College Scorecard Data compiled by the U.S. Department of Education, the Opportunity Insights Mobility Report Cards use de-identified data from tax returns, linked to information about colleges, to construct a publicly available database for colleges in the United States. Although they provide many measures in the Mobility Report Cards, the Opportunity Insights team focuses primarily on upward mobility for the lowest-income students—those whose parents’ income falls in the bottom quintile—and on the likelihood that those students make it all the way to the top earnings quintile as young adults. This “Bottom-to-Top” measure of mobility is important, but it is not the whole story. It is important to also consider the prospects for students from a broader range of the income distribution, and in particular from middle-class families.

Read the full article about intergenerational mobility by Sarah Reber and Chenoah Sinclair at Brookings.