Education Offers Upward Mobility for Many

A college education is often talked about as the key to upward mobility in the United States. And, indeed, it is almost impossible to achieve upward mobility without higher education. However, it seems that some students are more successful at attaining higher education than others, and a lot of that success can depend on a family’s economic status. A student whose family is in the top 20 percent income level is five times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree by the age of 24 than a student whose family is in the lowest 20 percent of income.

This success rate matters to many – not just to the college students striving for their degree, but also to businesses, the US economy and society. The first convention of the Collegiate Leaders in Increasing Mobility, held in Austin, October 30, addressed this issue. “To meet the education-attainment goals that many believe is needed for a vibrant economy – having roughly 60 percent of citizens hold a quality postsecondary credential of some kind – colleges and universities must enroll and graduate far larger numbers of the disadvantaged young people and adults whom they have historically struggled to serve.”

The collegiate leaders focused on college mobility rates. Mobility rate is the percent of students that move from the bottom 20 percent of income level into the top 20 percent by the time they are in their early 30s. It’s clear that some schools have higher mobility rates than others, and some schools do better at helping students reach attainment goals. And while colleges and universities are where students attain their degrees, help in attaining degrees and achieving upward mobility can come from other sources.

Businesses that make tuition assistance available for employees, and encourage employees to further their education, are helping individuals achieve upward mobility. Tuition assistance is often a vital part of encouraging adults who colleges “struggled to serve” return to college and attain their degrees. TAP benefits offer opportunities to individuals who often have academic and career potential that hasn’t been developed. Many of today’s adult students are first-generation, low-income, minority, military-connected, working adults – or a combination of these factors. Some of them didn’t go to college at all, some went to college but didn’t complete a degree, and all of them realize that the lack of a degree is stopping their upward mobility.

Tuition assistance programs work at the root of upward mobility. They provide opportunities for employees to earn credentials that move them into better paying more secure positions. As businesses change and bring more technology into their operations, their employees will need high tech skills. With counseling as an integral part of TAP, employees can make the best use of their educational opportunities, gain the education and skills they need to be upwardly mobile, and continue on that path.

TAP benefits to attain postsecondary credentials are the key for many to gain upward mobility. For example, Walter Pearson, Dean of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies at Loyola University Chicago says, “For working adults, completion of the bachelor’s degree is what matters. For our SCPS students, completion of the degree results in a doubling of their annual compensation within three years.”

Professors Michael Kraus and Nicole Stephens reinforce the importance of degree attainment. “Educational attainment is often considered to be the most fundamental measure of social class because it provides access to elevated income, to prestigious occupations, and to the types of cultural capital needed to thrive in middle- and upper-class environments.” People who earn a degree can expect much greater earnings over a lifetime, but they also have important cultural knowledge such as customs and greater access to social networks such as political connections.

Tuition assistance programs can give many people the opportunity to achieve upward mobility. Encouraging employees of all levels to attain higher education will result in more people being able to assume the jobs and responsibilities that provide upward mobility.