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Class Inequality: College Enrollment and Completion

  • By: Mary E. M. McKillip & Kara Balemian
  • In: Sociology of Education: An A-to-Z Guide
  • Edited by: James Ainsworth
  • Subject:Sociology of Education (general), Sociology of Education, Education Policy

Students from lower socioeconomic classes—most typically defined as students whose parents have low education, income, and occupational status—are less likely than their counterparts to attend and complete college. This underrepresentation of low-income students in higher education has become an increasing concern as the United States continues to fall behind other nations in the percent of adults holding tertiary degrees. The gap in college access and completion, based on class, can be traced to social barriers, inadequate academic preparation, rising college costs, and the funneling of low-income students into community colleges. In the early 19th century, higher education mainly served sons from elite families.

Thomas Jefferson, however, argued that control of power by the wealthy was a threat to democracy and that public higher education was essential ...

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