College & Workforce Readiness

Tracing the Paths to Social Mobility

By Dakarai I. Aarons — January 23, 2009 1 min read

A new report by the Washington-based Hudson Institute looks for educational pathways that could produce the high-paying careers needed for social mobility among low-income families.

Called “Pathways to Boosting the Earnings of Low-Income Students by Increasing Their Educational Attainment,” it was prepared for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation by Hudson and CNA, an Alexandria, Va.-based nonprofit research group.

The study was based on data on the high school, postsecondary, and workforce experience of all Florida students who were in the 9th grade in 1996. After examining the cohort of more than 144,000 students, the researchers found that while academic degrees increased the amount that recipients earned, certificates from community colleges and technical schools also led to well-paid careers.

Concentrations in science, technology, and mathematics tended to be among the most lucrative fields for students.

The study also found implications for future earnings in the way students were prepared during their high school careers. High-performing, well-prepared high school students tended to select college concentrations that would lead to higher earnings.

Other barriers affected the performance of low-income students. They were unlikely to remain in college for more than a year or to receive a credential. Many of them also spent most of their time working on remedial classes. Those barriers often reflected a lack of money or information about how to access postsecondary options.

“Certainly, it is possible that many more low-income students would attend college if they had better information about the expected gains from obtaining certificates and degrees in different fields and the availability of financial-aid programs,” the report says.

“But it also is possible,” it says, “that many low-income students who did not attend college faced larger financial impediments than those who did, and more generous aid programs and/or better supportive programs (such as child care) would be needed to substantially increase attainment of credentials for this group.”

A version of this article appeared in the January 28, 2009 edition of Education Week

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