Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Inequality in college spending

by Andrew Gillen and James Coleman

After reading Lane Kenworthy and The Education Optimists, we’ve got inequality on the brain, so we thought we’d share a couple of very informative charts we put together on the topic a while back for a project that’s on our backburner.

This first one shows the share of all income (red), and all college spending (blue) by percentile. For example, the bottom 80% of the population earns about 50% of all income. Similarly, 30% of FTE students attending schools with the lowest spending per student account for 10% of all school spending.

The most interesting thing is that in the bottom range (0-60%), college spending is more egalitarian than the income distribution. The bottom 20% accounts for 6% of all college spending, but only 3.5% of income. However, in the upper range (60-100%) the income distribution is more egalitarian than college spending. The 10% of students attending the highest spending schools account for 40% of all postsecondary spending compared to the richest 10% of Americans who bring in about 33% of all income. The country seems to have decided that our income distribution is too unequal – what does that imply about our higher education system, which is even more unequal?

For those of you interested in a little more detail, we’ve included the second chart showing the distribution of students by how much their school spends on each student.

1 comment:

capeman said...

This of course is absolutely meaningless unless one specifies what constitutes "spending per student". The second graph is very suspicious looking. Almost 400,000 students attending schools that spend more than $95K per student. What schools are these? Schools like Amherst? Where if you take their total expenditure per year divided by the number of students gives you something a bit less than $95K. But at <2000 students, you will need a lot of Amhersts to come up with 400,000.

So where does one come up with these numbers? I would guess by taking schools like Harvard and dividing by the number of FTE undergraduates. But then in the numerator you're putting in all the graduate programs, the research dollars, the medical school, etc etc. You come up with something totally misleading that way.