Competition for College Admissions Perpetuates Class Divide in Higher Education

Oct 02, 2009

Increased competition for college admissions combined with the heightened emphasis on test scores in recent decades has fueled the growth of class inequality in American higher education, according to sociologist Sigal Alon of Tel-Aviv University.

Using data from three nationally representative surveys (National Longitudinal Study of the High School Class of 1972, High School and Beyond, National Education Longitudinal Survey), Alon examines how social class affects college admissions of the high school graduating classes of 1972, 1982 and 1992.

Students from low socioeconomic strata in all three graduating classes were at a marked disadvantage in access to postsecondary education, and this disadvantage increased with college selectivity. Alon finds that the class divide grows during times of high competition in college admissions because privileged students are able to adapt to the tightening admissions requirements (i.e., the greater emphasis on test scores), while their underprivileged counterparts are unable to follow suit. This leads to a class-based polarization of test scores, restricting the opportunities of talented underprivileged seniors the most. During periods of declining competition in admissions, Alon finds a convergence in test scores among students of various socioeconomic statuses, leading to a smaller class divide in college enrollment.

"Strides toward equal opportunity in will only be made when the screening tool used in college admissions becomes impervious to training or preparation," said Alon. She predicts that the momentum for going SAT-optional among liberal arts colleges will fall short of equalizing opportunity as long as privileged youth can adapt to the new screening tool used by institutions to sort the influx of applicants. She suggests that class-based affirmative action is one solution to reduce inequality in admissions to four-year colleges.

More information: "The Evolution of Class Inequality in Higher Education: Competition, Exclusion, and Adaptation," by Sigal Alon, Tel-Aviv University, in the American Sociological Review, October 2009

Provided by American Sociological Association (news : web)

Explore further: Society bloomed with gentler personalities and more feminine faces

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

SAT prep tools offer great advantages

Aug 14, 2006

U.S. students from higher-income families are most likely to use SAT preparation tools, thereby giving them an advantage in getting into college.

Recommended for you

Soccer's key role in helping migrants to adjust

11 hours ago

New research from the University of Adelaide has for the first time detailed the important role the sport of soccer has played in helping migrants to adjust to their new lives in Australia.

Congressional rift over environment influences public

Jul 31, 2014

American citizens are increasingly divided over the issue of environmental protection and seem to be taking their cue primarily from Congress, finds new research led by a Michigan State University scholar.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Doug_Huffman
1 / 5 (1) Oct 02, 2009
While the hierarchy explicit in 'higher' education is the premise then there will never be equal opportunity in education - as it should not be.

The only equal opportunity education is educating to the lowest common denominator that is no education at all.

Read Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt's The Deliberate Dumbing down of America to discover the U.S. advantage in zero based education.