Is Education the Golden Ticket to the American Dream?

Infographic comparing the social mobility of children born to parents in different social classes. It is clear that a college education increases upwards social mobility for children born into all social classes. However, children born into higher social classes are far more likely to attend college, with 53% of children from the top class earning their degree compared to only 11% of children from the bottom class.
Visualization of data from Haskins’ research (2008). 

Golden Ticket to the American Dream

Like Lucas, several of our interviewees highlighted the importance of a college education. They saw it as a method to attain their personal American Dream—usually a career and a comfortable life. However, after listening to a podcast about student loans, some students in class expressed doubt in their own decision to exchange student loans for an education. While an education can be costly, earning a college degree is worthwhile because it affords an increased likelihood of upwards social mobility.

Ron Haskins (2008), of the Brookings Institution, found a strong correlation between education level and social mobility. To do this, he used the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), which is a study, centered around economic factors, of a nationally representative sample of over 11,000 families that have been traced through several generations. The PSID collects data through interviews, which were conducted annually (1968-1977) and then biannually (1997-Present). Haskin’s central findings demonstrate that a college education is correlated with increased social mobility; however, since access to education is unequal, education can act as a barrier to social mobility. The children of parents from every income quintile are more likely to make it into the top two quintiles if they achieve a college degree (as seen in the graphic comparison above). However, there is still a disparity. Children of parents in the top quintile have 23% of staying there without a degree whereas children of parents in the bottom quintile have only a 19% of ending up at the top—even if they get a degree. Furthermore, education represents a way in which children inherit advantage: 53% of children of the top quintile graduate college, compared to only 11% of the bottom quintile (Haskins 2008). These statistics combined demonstrate that because so few born in the bottom attend college, even fewer people from there end up at the top, despite the increase in social mobility granted by their education.

This article helps situate our class discussions in context. After listening to Anna Sale’s podcast, “Our Student Loan Secrets, Part 1”, many in our class felt disheartened. The repeated message that college was not worth the resulting debt made some question their own decision to exchange student loans for an education. While Sharif’s story scared some, it is not one that should dissuade students from continuing college. He put himself through college by taking out loans and the resulting education boosted his salary from $3,000 a month to much more than that (Sale 2017). His degree raised his socio-economic class; however, he circumvented the inability to pay by taking out loans, reflecting statistics mentioned in the article. Therefore, his story should be seen as a warning. As first-years, we can take action to mitigate loans now, preventing the unreasonable debt he experienced. The possibility of a fulfilling career and future comfort make education the golden ticket to increasing our opportunities, a golden ticket we should both accept and embrace. Finally, we should recognize that this privilege puts us in a unique place to help others—maybe even to amend the higher education system so as to increase accessibility for all.

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Haskins, Ron. 2008. “Education and Economic Mobility.” The Brookings Institution. Retrieved Dec. 12, 2018. (

Sale, Anna. 2017. “Our Student Loan Secrets, Part 1”. Retrieved Dec. 12, 2018. (

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