Upward mobility is a myth for many students who borrow to attend private non-profit colleges, a Third Way report, Incomplete: The Quality Crisis at America’s Private, Non-Profit Colleges.
New, full-time low- and moderate-income students who start at a four-year, nonprofit college have only a 50-50 shot at earning a degree, the report concludes.
Most low- and moderate-income students enroll in less selective colleges with low graduation rates. Looking at net price — what students pay after grants, scholarships and loans — the unselective colleges cost the most.
“Using our mobility metric, the average net tuition paid by low- and moderate-income students was lowest at top-quartile schools ($15,938) and highest at bottom-quartile schools ($18,776),” warns Third Way.
Six years after enrolling, nearly 40 percent of students who borrowed for college don’t earn any more than the average worker with only a high school diploma. On average, 19 percent of borrowers fall behind on repaying loans three years out of college.
Here’s what Third Way doesn’t quite say: College is an engine of upward mobility for students who have the academic preparation to get into a selective college and complete a degree. For those with weak academic skills or shaky motivation, college can lead to debt (that can’t be discharged by bankruptcy) without raising earning power.
“If we’re serious about promoting equality and removing barriers that keep the less fortunate from getting ahead,” we should ban the college box,” writes Glenn Reynolds in USA Today. “If you have to go to college to move up in the world, a lot of people aren’t going to move up.”