Can College Level the Playing Field?: Higher Education in an Unequal Society

Why higher education is not a silver bullet for eradicating economic inequality and social injustice


Published (US):
May 17, 2022
Published (UK):
Jul 12, 2022
5.5 x 8.5 in.
15 b/w illus. 21 tables.
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We often think that a college degree will open doors to opportunity regardless of one’s background or upbringing. In this eye-opening book, two of today’s leading economists argue that higher education alone cannot overcome the lasting effects of inequality that continue to plague us, and offer sensible solutions for building a more just and equitable society.

Sandy Baum and Michael McPherson document the starkly different educational and social environments in which children of different races and economic backgrounds grow up, and explain why social equity requires sustained efforts to provide the broadest possible access to high-quality early childhood and K–12 education. They dismiss panaceas like eliminating college tuition and replacing the classroom experience with online education, revealing why they fail to provide better education for those who need it most, and discuss how wages in our dysfunctional labor market are sharply skewed toward the highly educated. Baum and McPherson argue that greater investment in the postsecondary institutions that educate most low-income and marginalized students will have a bigger impact than just getting more students from these backgrounds into the most prestigious colleges and universities.

While the need for reform extends far beyond our colleges and universities, there is much that both academic and government leaders can do to mitigate the worst consequences of America’s deeply seated inequalities. This book shows how we can address the root causes of social injustice and level the playing field for students and families before, during, and after college.

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