Russell Sage Foundation Working Paper Series
Since 1973, when Congress undertook the last major structural reform of federal financial aid rules by establishing the Pell Grant program– a school voucher program for low-income undergraduates– very little has changed in the way government helps families pay for college. Meanwhile, the environment has changed dramatically. First, the labor market for college graduates is quite different. The percentage difference in earnings between those with and without a college degree has more than doubled since 1980. Second, there appears to be a supply response under way. The proportion of 18-24 year-olds enrolled in college has increased by more than one-third since 1980. This paper describes some of the characteristics of that supply response: which racial and gender groups are responding and which are not, and what role income inequality may be playing in shaping those responses.