For decades, leaders in higher education have voiced their intention to expand college education to include disadvantaged groups. Colleges have embraced and defended public policies that push back against discrimination and make college more affordable. And yet, as the economist Clotfelter shows, America’s system of undergraduate education was unequal in 1970 and is even more so today.
In his book, Clotfelter presents quantitative comparisons across selective and less selective colleges from the 1970s to the present, in exploration of three themes: diversity, competition, and inequality. He shows that exclusive colleges have also benefited disproportionately from America’s growing income inequality. As their endowments have ballooned, their students have become more academically advantaged, owing in part to the extraordinary steps affluent families take to groom their children for college admission. Clotfelter finds that despite a revolution in civil rights, billions spent on financial aid, and the commitment of colleges to greater equality, stratification has grown starker. Top colleges cater largely to children of elites.