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Parachutes and Ladders:

Education and Social Mobility in the U.S.

Americans want to believe that the United States is the land of opportunity. We want a nation where one’s talents and effort determine outcomes, not one’s circumstances at birth. Education, in particular, is held up as the path that is supposed to carry people to success—the ladder, in other words, that Americans are expected to climb. And, yet, evidence today reveals that educational attainment depends more on family financial standing than student aptitude. Schools are vastly unequal by income and race, but they do not have to be. Crafting solutions begins with unmasking education’s inequity and committing ourselves to making it a truly potent force for economic mobility. 

View Slides from the Presentations

1.  Welcome, AEDI, Wealth Transfer Project 

2.  Emily Rauscher, University of Kansas: The Ladder is Broken: The Promise and Stark Realities of the American Dream 

3.  Initial framing 

  • Erin Currier, Pew Economic Mobility Project, Mobility in history: better off than our parents, but only absolutely 
  • Fabian Pfeffer, University of Michigan, Education and mobility: evidence and limits 
  • Willie Elliott, University of Kansas:  Time to build new ladders, with closer rungs? Policies to facilitate mobility 


Sponsors: Center on Assets, Education, and Inclusion (AEDI), Institute for Policy and Social Research (IPSR), University of Kansas Provost Office, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation 

New Book Released

Today’s student loan system is in place because of a political compromise, and growing discontent with student debt may signal that this arrangement has run its course. While there are resources and organizations in place to help those struggling with debt, the time has come to consider a new direction for financial aid, William Elliott III and Melinda Lewis argue in “Student Debt: A Reference Handbook.”

Why KU
  • One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
  • Nearly $290 million in financial aid annually
  • 44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
    —U.S. News & World Report
  • Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
  • 23rd nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets," Military Times