If you want to move up in America, go to college. That’s the advice people get. But new academic research suggests that chances for students from poor families in America to move up through higher education are shrinking. Elite colleges still don’t admit many students from poor backgrounds, and public universities are under increasing financial pressure to enroll wealthier students who can afford full tuition. For poor students, college isn’t the mobility-maker it once was.
That trend is happening at a time when social mobility in America is stagnating. The chances an American child will earn more than his or her parents has been declining: Children born in the 1940s had a 90 percent chance of surpassing their parents; kids born in 1980 had only a 50 percent chance of doing better. It’s now more difficult to break out of the class you’re born into. Children of well-to-do families are likely to stay that way, and children of poor families are likely to stay poor.