Department of Economics
January 19, 2017

Study finds some public universities to be mobility engines, gives Ivies mixed reviews


A newly released study by Brown Associate Professor John Friedman and co-authors at the Equality of Opportunity Project provides the most detailed picture yet on the rates at which colleges and universities help turn students from low-income families into members of higher-earning quintiles and percentiles of the U.S. income distribution.

John FriedmanDefining a school’s “mobility rate” as the fraction of its student who come from a bottom fifth family and end up with a top fifth income by their mid-30s, the study finds “mid-tier public universities” like many in the City University of New York system and California State University, LA, score highest. Ivies like Brown are more successful at catapulting a fraction of their low income students into the top 1%, but perform less well on overall mobility since a smaller proportion of their students are drawn from lower income quintiles. As a New York Times article headlined it on Jan. 18, the number of students from top 1% families at Brown and similar schools exceeds the number from the bottom 60%, combined. A second Times article appearing the same day emphasized the mobility findings, including the fact that students from a low income background have quite similar outcomes to those from richer families; see also the interview with Friedman here