Is There a Caste System in American Higher Education?

Is There a Caste System in American Higher Education?

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Enter the admissions office at Trinity College in Connecticut and you’ll find a roaring fire, fresh flowers, floor-to-ceiling windows, and a Latino enrollment dean who grew up poor; the first in his family to go to college.

Angel B. Pérez, Trinity’s vice-president of enrollment and student success, is especially sympathetic to students with similar backgrounds. He knows they would benefit from the extraordinary resources of this private liberal arts institution where annual tuition and fees cost just under $64,000.

Only, he can’t admit many of them.

[Related: Children of Color Are Gifted, Too]

“Do we all want more low-income students? Sure, but we would go into financial ruin,” Pérez recently told Jon Marcus of The Hechinger Report, crystallizing a key reason why college campuses like Trinity too often are largely the purview only of those who can afford them–and why Hechinger Report’s recent Divided We Learn project found that poor and minority students are drastically and increasingly underrepresented in key areas of higher education.

As part of our ongoing project, our team visited dozens of public and private college campuses, interviewed experts, reviewed data, and found numerous examples of ways low-income and minority students are left behind; some of them particularly disturbing. For example, more than 50 years after passage of the Voting Rights Act and 60 years after the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education ruling declared that state laws separating black and white students in public schools were unconstitutional, just 5% of students at the nation’s flagship public universities are black.


Researchers we’ve spoken with believe the higher education system actually works against poorer students, including many who are black and Latino, by tracking them toward colleges with fewer resources and lower graduation rates.Wealthy students with mediocre scores on standardized tests generally attend better colleges than poor kids with high scores.

Read more at The Hechinger Report.