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Social Mobility at Comprehensive Public Universities

April 4, 2019

More than half of low-income students at comprehensive public universities reach the top half of the nation's income earners by their 30s, according to a new analysis from the American Enterprise Institute.

The paper analyzed social mobility data for students who attend the more than 400 comprehensive universities in the U.S., a category of institution that fits between public flagship or research universities and community colleges. Roughly 70 percent of undergraduates who attend a four-year institution are enrolled in this sector, as are more than 40 percent of all undergraduates.

Jorge Klor de Alva, author of the analysis and president of Nexus Research and Policy Center, a nonprofit research group, used data from the Equality of Opportunity Project to write the paper. For his adjusted mobility rate, Klor de Alva calculated the percentage of students from the bottom two income quintiles who rose to the top two quintiles. In addition to the more than half of students who ended up in the top half of income by their early 30s, 80 percent moved up the earnings ladder by at least one quintile.

The report found wide variability in the rate of mobility across institutions, with college completion rates and field of study being the most influential factors.

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Paul Fain

Paul Fain, Contributing Editor, came to Inside Higher Ed in September 2011, after a six-year stint covering leadership and finance for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Paul has also worked in higher ed P.R., with Widmeyer Communications, but couldn't stay away from reporting. A former staff writer for C-VILLE Weekly, a newspaper in Charlottesville, Va., Paul has written for The New York Times, Washington City Paper and Mother Jones. He's won a few journalism awards, including one for beat reporting from the Education Writers Association and the Dick Schaap Excellence in Sports Journalism Award. Paul got hooked on journalism while working too many hours at The Review, the student newspaper at the University of Delaware, where he earned a degree in political science in 1996. A native of Dayton, Ohio, and a long-suffering fan of the Cincinnati Bengals, Fain plays guitar in a band with more possible names than polished songs.

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