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Forum 41:

The Growing Inequality of Colleges: How and Why

Held Thursday, March 14, 2019

Forum Summary

Many critics have asked whether America’s colleges, rather than acting as an avenue for equal opportunity, in fact contribute to more inequality. To inform this debate, Professor Clotfelter has gathered data to describe the market for baccalaureate education over the last four decades.

The data tell a story of diversity, competition, and increasing inequality. Although all of America’s colleges offer bachelor’s degrees, they exhibit astounding diversity. Competition occurs among students and among colleges. In some of its forms, the competition among colleges has contributed to the huge success of America’s research universities, but some of it is more wasteful than useful. The increase in inequality is revealed by numerous comparisons of different types of colleges and their students over time. Benefiting in part from rising income inequality itself, America’s top colleges became richer and academically more demanding, leaving many other colleges struggling just to survive.

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