Research in Higher Education

, Volume 55, Issue 7, pp 710–734 | Cite as

The Differential Impact of Wealth Versus Income in the College-Going Process



College is increasingly essential for economic and social mobility. Current research and public policy devotes significant attention to race, income, and socioeconomic factors in college access. Yet, wealth’s role, as differentiated from income, is largely unexplored. This paper examines the differences between wealth and income in the college-going process, specifically applying to college, attending college, and what type of college attended (2-year, 4-year, and more or less selective). To examine these relationships, the National Longitudinal Study of Youth (1997) is linked to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System to create a nationally representative dataset. Binary and multinomial logistic regressions reveal that wealth is consistently more significant in the college choice process than income. Wealth’s significance as a predictor for college application and attending a 2-year college versus no college disappears when controls for human capital, habitus, social capital, and cultural capital are added. However, wealth’s significance persists for less selective and more selective 4-year college attendance, even after including these controls. K-12 and postsecondary institutions and policymakers, looking to level the playing field and make college more accessible, must address wealth’s impact on the college-going process.


College access Wealth Income Social capital Cultural capital 



The author would like to thank Anthony Antonio, Michael Kirst, Susanna Loeb, and R. Richard Banks for their feedback and comments, Jerome Karabel for his support of this research idea, and the American Educational Research Association (Minority Fellowship), the Association for the Study of Higher Education (Lumina Foundation Fellowship), and the Mellon Foundation (Sawyer Fellowship) for their financial and professional support of this research.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Public Policy and AdministrationCalifornia State University, SacramentoSacramentoUSA

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