Mobility Report Cards: The Role of Colleges in Intergenerational Mobility
Raj Chetty, John Friedman, Emmanuel Saez, Nicholas Turner, Danny Yagan
NBER Working Paper No. 23618, Revised Version
December 2017

We  characterize  intergenerational  income  mobility  at  each  college  in  the  United  States  using data  for  over  30  million  college  students  from  1999-2013.

We  document  four  results.   First, access  to  colleges  varies  greatly  by  parent  income.   For  example,  children  whose  parents  are in  the  top  1%  of  the  income  distribution  are  77  times  more  likely  to  attend  an  Ivy  League college than those whose parents are in the bottom income quintile.

Second, children from low- and high-income families have similar earnings outcomes conditional on the college they attend, indicating that low-income students are not mismatched at selective colleges.

Third, rates of upward mobility – the fraction of students who come from families in the bottom income quintile and reach the top quintile – differ substantially across colleges because low-income access varies significantly  across  colleges  with  similar  earnings  outcomes.   Rates  of  bottom-to-top  quintile mobility are highest at certain mid-tier public universities, such as the City University of New York and California State colleges.  Rates of upper-tail (bottom quintile to top 1%) mobility are highest at elite colleges, such as Ivy League universities.

Fourth, the fraction of students from low-income families did not change substantially between 2000-2011 at elite private colleges, but fell sharply at colleges with the highest rates of bottom-to-top-quintile mobility.  Although our descriptive analysis does not identify colleges’ causal effects on students’ outcomes, the publicly available statistics constructed here highlight colleges that deserve further study as potential engines of upward mobility.


The opinions expressed in this paper are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the
Internal Revenue Service or the U.S. Treasury Department.  This work was conducted under IRS contract TIRNO-16-E-00013 and reviewed by the Office of Tax Analysis at the U.S. Treasury.