Report: Colleges Can Level The Playing Field For Low-Income Students

Spelmon College has a high economic mobility rate for students, according to a new report from Brown University.
Credit Alison Guillory / WABE
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According to a new report from Brown University, Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University have the highest economic mobility rates among Atlanta-area colleges.

The study examined students who came from families in the bottom 20 percent of income distribution (Families who earn less than $25,000 a year). Researchers combined that result with the percentage of students who reach the top 20 percent of income distribution in their mid-thirties.

“So that means earning more than $60,000 in 2014,” said John Friedman, associate professor of economics and world affairs at Brown. He co-authored the study.

Spelman and Clark Atlanta both had economic mobility rates of 3.3 percent. That puts them in the top 12 percent of colleges nationwide.

Friedman put Spelman’s success in perspective by comparing it with flagship institution University of Georgia.  He said both schools see about 35 percent of their low-income students become top income earners. But, he said, about 10 percent of Spelman’s student body is low-income, compared to 3 percent at UGA.

“What’s impressive about a place like Spelman is that it is able to attain that high quality, but it’s obviously serving a relatively large number of students from poor families,” he said.

Clark Atlanta doesn’t produce as many high earners as Spelman. But, Friedman said, it serves almost twice as many low-income students.

“For a college like that, that’s really, really impressive,” Friedman said. “That is, I think, well above the 90th percentile nationally. And they’re doing so not as a community college, but as a reasonably high-quality four-year school. So, I think that’s what’s really propelling Clark Atlanta to the top.”

However, Friedman said overall colleges have seen a decline in low-income students in recent years. He said going forward, researchers need to understand that, and find out whether there are policies that can help reverse the trend.  

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