But the qualifications required for a successful career in today’s information economy are rocketing upward much faster than graduation rates, with the education gap getting wider, not narrower. At the same time, growing income inequality has focused more attention on the importance of a college degree in helping people get ahead. The unemployment rate is just 3.4% for college grads, while it’s 6.4% for high-school grads with no college and 9.8% for high school dropouts.That might be an opportunity for strivers, and perhaps driving four Bimmers off the cliff to get an area studies degrees takes a few of the trustafarians off the board. But the bulk of the higher education action goes on at the community colleges, the regional comprehensives, and the mid-majors, and those aren't necessarily engines of opportunity.
Since college is expensive and demanding, it favors students who come from families with the money and other resources to see their kids through all four years. Less expensive state schools and community colleges are supposed to help students who can’t afford a name-brand private university. But budget cuts have left those schools considerably more expensive as well. Some students hesitate to take out loans to help pay their way, given the iffy job market for new grads. Many students who start out at less expensive schools drop out, barely better off for their efforts and expenditures.I've read Coming Apart but not yet posted a full review. Perhaps next year. And the least-common-denominator, access-assessment-remediation-retention, or sub-prime party school mindset of more than a few of the institutions lost in the weeds of the U.S. News sonar might be hurting those possible students as much as stingy state legislators or dangerous government schools.
As the skills required to prosper in a high-tech global economy get increasingly sophisticated, meanwhile, advanced education is actually helping elite families become more entrenched, not less, as scholar Charles Murray argues in the recent book Coming Apart. Elites with a premier education are also grabbing a larger share of income in most developed countries, one reason inequality is worsening.