In this module, you examined education around the world. Education is an institution that helps to socialize people to the cultural norms of their society. What we learn may be about content (history, or math) but also about the hidden curriculum (like how to be a patriotic citizen). Education may be formal (in a school) or informal (like learning how to cook or how to tie your shoes), and it may be mandated by law, as it is in the United States where children must attend for at least ten years of their lives. The quality of education varies within our own country as well as across countries.
Historically, there has been an emphasis on the benefits of attending college to improve one’s opportunities in life, but studies show that those who come from poor families do not see the same level of financial gain from attending college as their wealthier peers. In light of these disparate outcomes, we should consider whether or not attending college really is the “great equalizer.” A study by the Brookings Institute revealed that while attending college did result in salary gains for both poor and non-poor students, the benefits of attending college were not as pronounced for the economically disadvantaged students. Students who came from families below 185 percent of the federal poverty earned 91% more than their no-college peers, but college graduates from families above the 185 percent line earned significantly more—162% more than their peers with only a high school diploma. As you can see in Figure 1, this gap widens over time, so that by the time the college graduates are sixty, those who are above 185 percent of the federal poverty level earn around $80,000, while those below that same level with a bachelor’s degree will earn closer to $25,000. These trends further illustrate the accumulation of advantage or, conversely, disadvantage, that is observed based on background characteristics such as family income.
Many factors could be contributing to the disparities in earnings discussed above: career selection, debt at time of graduation, social capital (the social networks developed) from college, marriage preference, family structure, etc. Considering these external mechanisms, can we really argue for education as the great equalizer?
- NCES. Postsecondary Attainment: Differences by Socioeconomic Status. Retrieved from Postsecondary Attainment: Differences by Socioeconomic Status. ↵
- Beer, Todd (March 2016). "A PATH TO MOBILITY? How universities maintain the class structure." The Society Pages, Sociology Toolbox. Retrieved from https://thesocietypages.org/toolbox/a-path-to-mobility-how-universities-maintain-the-class-structure/. ↵