In their recent NYT opinion piece titled “College Does Help the Poor” Tim Bartik and Brad Hershbein argue that “while a college degree does not eliminate inequality, it still pays off for people from low-income backgrounds.” While I agree that it is unrealistic to expect that a college education alone can fix income inequality, we should not mask the reality that higher education is a gamble for the majority of low-income students. Data shows that only 16% of low-income ever manage to graduate college and earn the extra $335,000 calculated by the authors while 60% of high-income students will graduate and earn double over a lifetime than what their low-income peers earn.
What is worse is that the majority of the 84% low-income who drop out will have to repay their student debt without a degree to show for!
By dangling the success of few low-income students before our financially vulnerable youth, we are essentially asking them to gamble: to take on loans for a chance to win$335,000 over a lifetime. If we truly believe that college has the potential to be a good lever for low-income students, why not provide them grants and scholarships instead?