Despite broad national attention, access to education is still a defining civil rights issue. There is a singular, effective route up the economic ladder — a four-year college education. It seems like an easy out, and yet we know that less than half of the highest-achieving low-income students in this country will enroll in a four-year college; far fewer will get a degree.
According to the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Economic Mobility Project, in 21st century America, a child’s economic destiny is largely determined at birth. Forty-three percent of children born into the bottom economic quintile remain there as adults and 70 percent remain below the middle.
Why? Because throughout the United States, only 29 percent of low-income students enroll in college and only nine percent graduate (Figure 1). Even among the highest-achieving, low-income students in the country, only 44 percent will enter a four-year college versus 80 percent of their wealthier peers (Figure 2).