Access to Top Universities Linked to Family Background, Not Just Achievement
As much as we'd like to think the college-admissions process takes place on a level playing field, new research suggests it does not. Access to top universities in the United States, England, and Australia has a lot to do with family background and money, it finds, not just the academic ability of applicants.
In the United States, children from professional families are 3.3 times more likely to go to leading public universities than those from working-class householdsand 40 percent of the gap cannot be explained by differences in academic achievement, according to a research report recently released by the Sutton Trust, an independent British think tank. At elite, private universities here, where students from professional families are 6.4 times more likely to enroll than those from working-class backgrounds, 52 percent of the difference cannot be explained by academic achievement.
The report considers the father's occupation when determining if a child is from a professional household (doctor, lawyers, teachers) or working-class family (carpenter, waiter, laborer). The apparent admission advantage could be linked to the father's higher income, advanced education, or connections, according to Sutton Trust officials.The findings were similiar for children in England and Australia, although the gaps were slightly more pronounced in the United States.
"Although academic achievement is an important factor, a substantial proportion of the elite university access gap in each country remains unexplained. This suggests that there are working-class children who, even though they have the grades to attend, choose to enter a non-selective institution instead," said the report's author, John Jerrim of the Institute of Education at the Univeristy of London, in a press release. The new research confirms that, internationally, many able children either are not applying or are not being admitted to the best universities.
The report suggests that cost-effective interventions targeting students between the ages of 14 and 18 may play an important role in reducing socioeconomic inequalities in elite university access in the future.