The variances of College Access

The Contributions of Economics to the Study of College Access and Success

  • Economics: The primary framework in economics of education is the human capital model developed by Gary Becker in his seminal 1964 work.2 Education is thought to increase human capital, a set of skills that can be “rented out” to employers for income. When deciding whether to continue their education, individuals compare the benefits of human capital to the costs of obtaining it. In terms of higher education decisions, an individual will weigh the costs and benefits, both monetary and otherwise, to decide whether to prepare for college, enroll in a postsecondary institution, and continue until completing a college degree.
  • First, individuals may have liquidity constraints, or the inability to secure capital to pay for their human capital investments.
  • Resources: Preparation phase, financing phase


  • History is not about providing lessons — it is about giving an interpretation of something
  • This is what we know — these are implications of what exist, and these are recommendations
  • Market forces of the underrepresented
  • what we know and the impolication with respect to marit — use to gain access or limit access
  • race gender and then class with respect to inequities of college access
  • Desegregation was considered a “good”

Key Findings


  • The presence of externalities, another theoretical concept in economics, is a second major market failure. Externalities are defined as spillovers that affect other parties.
  • Economists — less to do with money and more to do with the way in which human capital investments
  • At the core of their work, economists aim to establish a causal relationship rather than one based on the correlation of trends or patterns. The distinction between correlation and causation is an important one as many variables related to issues involving education appear to move together.
  • College prep/access — creating someone who will help with the cyclical of economics


  • Preparation and then access for certain groups
  • Inequities within K-12 and the university
  • Merit and qualities of preparation: Along with inequalities in preparation, the evolving concept of meritocratic admissions has been another historical barrier to equal access to higher education. Although the increasing interest in “merit” once served to expand access to college by opening admissions to academically skilled but socially or economically marginalized students, it became a hurdle for equal access by the final third of the twentieth century.
  • We assumed that desegregation is a good thing — there may be value in spaces in segregated spaces
  • race and gender are the only things spoken about with respect to the history of education

Key Enduring Questions

  • Economics: How do you measure human beings as a product of success — ?
  • Economics: How do humans contribute?
  • History: What is really going on within higher education? Why the 1960s?
  • History: Is there value in segregated spaces?
  • History: Who else faces inequities in education?
  • History: The establishment of unwritten rules and the perpetuation of how things WILL be done — who will challenge these rules
  • History: Merit and what is meant by it would help frame history literature
  • History: Historians have not yet adequately addressed the question of why inequities in preparation persisted even after the formal ideologies supporting inequality had been rejected. Although it seems unlikely that historians will discover any smoking guns, additional historical research might help to illuminate the influence of structural factors, such as institutional diversity and suburbanization, and cultural factors, such as teacher expectations and prejudices.


  • Frame: socio-cultural context — individual and system
  • Key Findings: family experience, cultural capital,
  • “Much of what anthropology has to tell us about transitions to college is how students negotiate schooling to create academic identifications, access and construct networks rich in social and cultural capital, and experience a sense of belonging. It tells us about how students and their families secure funding for college—and how, in various and multiple ways, family members get involved in or are excluded from college-going processes.”


  • Frame: SES || Face/ Gender / Class
  • Key Findings: Systems and individuals / economic / K-16 Focus / College prep for under-rep
  • A lot of the research in the area is K-12 focused and not higher education focused
  • What do we know about the transition to college? “The human, economic and social capital invested in this transition, and in subsequent college completion, is enormous in individual, community, and institutional terms.” by William Trent, Margaret Terry Orr, Sheri Ranis & Jennifer Holdaway — 2007 (
  • “In addition to and intersecting with the examination of the role of academic achievement, the social-psychological dimensions of college success have also been considered by sociologists, mainly in an attempt to understand the role of aspirations, expectations, and college plans. A major component of the schooling experience with which so
    ciologists are concerned is how social and cultural capital mediate the relationship between social background and college success.
    ” by William Trent, Margaret Terry Orr, Sheri Ranis & Jennifer Holdaway — 2007

Frames: Migration | Fertility | Family structures
Findings: Women who have children in their teens have less schooling | chilfdren in parent households have better outcomes in education

Higher Education
Frames: College perparation | College access | Persistance to college outcomes
Findings: Limited methods | Call for longitudinal data sets

Teachers College Record Volume 109 Number 10, 2007, p. 2207-2221 ID Number: 12594, Date Accessed: 5/13/2008 11:46:04 AM