Many Americans look to education to get ahead. While recent years have witnessed a decline in college enrollment, especially amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, over 17 million students attended institutions of higher education in 2020 according to the National Student Clearinghouse, double the number of students fifty years ago. The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) continues to rank the United States in the top ten countries in the world with regards to rates of education, providing further evidence of Americans faith in education to advance their social status.
Yet, more and more degrees have not led to reduced levels of inequality. Rather, quite the opposite. Inequality remains the highest its been in decades. In this episode, Cristina Groeger delves into the history of this seeming contradiction, explaining how education came to be seen as a panacea even as it paved the way for deepening inequality. Starting in the late 19th century—at time when few Americans attended college, let alone high school—she explores how schooling came to be associated with work. For some, especially women and immigrants, education offered new pathways into jobs previously held by white, native-born men. By and large, however, the shift to a more educated workforce did not necessarily translate to social advancement. Rather, education, Groeger argues, often served a tool by which societal elite maintained their status atop American society.
Check out the episode here!
Cristina Groeger is an Assistant Professor of History at Lake Forest College and the author of The Education Trap: Schools and the Remaking of Inequality in Boston.