Pursuant to my notes on the Gilpin and Katz book, The Race Between Technology and Education, today's NY Times carries David Leonhardt's business-section article describing the failure of US universities to graduate students -- despite relatively high enrollments.
Only 33 percent of the freshmen who enter the University of Massachusetts, Boston, graduate within six years. Less than 41 percent graduate from the University of Montana, and 44 percent from the University of New Mexico. The economist Mark Schneider refers to colleges with such dropout rates as “failure factories,” and they are the norm.
Gilpin and Katz describe in exhausting (!) detail the impact of college completion on both an individual's wages over the course of a lifetime and on macro-scale increases in productivity (as GDP, basically).
Leonhardt goes a step further and suggests that: 1) Costs (tuition, etc) are key determinants of where kids go to school, with many students outside of the upper-income bracket ending up "under-matched," attending schools that aren't the best for which they are qualified; 2) state colleges and universities, which serve those students in families with non-elite wealth, are the worst offenders in terms of completion percentage.
(A first-hand example from the excellent Education Trust website: the California State University at Monterey Bay, an affordable school relatively near me, a graduation rate of 36% over the last 6 years. WTF?)
What's this mean?
It means that disparities in university education in the US contribute greatly to the growth of inequality. Or, to put it another way: the non-rich--by virtue of the inadequacy of institutions that are designed to serve them--are getting even less rich, which is to say, eventually they will be poor.