Science & Tech

Who goes to college?

1 min read

Economist Bridget Terry Long examines access to higher education

According to the College Board, people with a bachelor’s degree will earn, on average, $1 million more throughout their lifetimes than those with only a high school diploma. Yet with the average tuition price of private four-year colleges nudging $20,000 per year and their public counterparts charging, on average, more than $4,000, access to that million-dollar advantage challenges lower-income students and their families. Bridget Terry Long, assistant professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has completed several studies recently that look at government programs intended to help students attend college, including the Georgia HOPE Scholarship, a merit-based program that’s been replicated in other states, and the federal government’s 1997 tax credits for higher education expenses. She found that, unlike earlier federal initiatives such as the need-based Pell Grant, these newer programs, initiated in the 1990s, are affecting affordability far more than access. In other words, they’re benefiting students who are already college-bound. “They’re really representing a shift in financial aid,” she says of the programs. “They’re not trying to introduce new people into the system, they’re trying to make people who are already going to attend more comfortable with the expense.”