Learning objectives: Engberg
1. How do students’ decisions about which college (university) to attend vary by family background?
2. How are opportunities to study at a prestigious university stratified by family background?
3. What are the implications of Engberg’s findings for practitioners and policymakers?

Learning objectives: Arum et al
1. How is expansion of higher education related to differentiation and stratification?
2. How does the relationship between expansion and stratification vary cross- nationally?
3. What is the theory of Maximally Maintained Inequality?
4. How does privatization influence enrolment rates and institutional differentiation?

Learning objectives: Frank
1. How is the market for higher education different than other types of markets?
2. How does a “winner-take-all” market work?
3. How does the growth in demand for elite educational credentials explain the growing importance of academic rankings?
4. What is the positional arms race in higher education?
5. What are the dangers of too much competition in higher education markets?

Learning objectives: Hussein
1. How is university quality related to graduate wages?
2. To what extent has the wage premium of graduating from an elite institution changed over time? Why?
3. What do their findings compare with studies conducted in the US, and what does this suggest about the role of institutional stratification and differentiation?

My LMS Lead

Four readings are presenting in the Learrning Guide on the specific topic of 'stratification', specifically by Engberg (2012), Arum et al (2007), Frank (1999), and Hussain et al (2009). 'Stratification', in this context, refers to various examples of clustering in higher education according to class - specifically the sociological concept which concentrates on peer-groups and family income, rather than of political economy with its emphasis on ownership of the factors of production. Before moving into a review and analysis proper, it should be noted that the link to the Engberg paper is incorrect (it links to the Eckel and King paper from last week). It should be (assuming that one has logged in via the library):

Engberg's study, as the title suggests, is that there is significant inequality in four-year college destinations, based on the Educational Longitudinal Study of the 2002 along with selectivity classification. Engberg elaborates from the theory of Maximally Maitained Inequality, which states that family background effects diminishes as educational attainment becomes compulsory and near universal, with the theory of Effectively Maintained Inequalty (from Lucas) which argues that dominant groups act to preserve their positions by pursuing better forms of education. Engbert argues that low-income students are information poor when selecting post-secondary education ending up as less selective institutions which generate lower future incomes, which is backed by the data analysis (Engberg, p589-590). Engberg argues that high-school triage and efforts from colleges in recruiting students from low SES backgrounds is needed to reduce the existing inequality.

The study by Arum, is referenced by Engberg, addresses the question on whether expansion and differentation in the higher education sector reduces or enhances social stratification by the opportunities it provides. Again the theory of Maximally Maitained Inequality is raised and is generally perceived as being empirically correct. After reviewing existing literature, Arum et. al., make six propositions (Arum et al., p8) concerning educational expansion, differentiation, and market structure. These propositions are tested against a non-probabilistic survey of a different educational systems in a variety of developed economies. In all cases, the propositions were seen as generally correct; expansion attenuates higher education inequality, diverse systems are more inclusive than binary or unified systems, private funding can expand enrolment through lenient eligability criteria but is also associated with inequality, which leads to the conclusion (and title) of the chapter that there is overall "more inclusion than diversion" through expansion and diversification.

The last two readings (Frank, Hussain et. al) are reviewed together due to similarities. Frank illustrates that the higher education market for elite institutions means that such bodies are extremely selective in who they choose and also charge a fraction of the cost as fees. Describing this as a 'winner takes all' market (p5, Frank), it is argued that small differences in performance (or creditentials) results in disproportionate differences in reward, as illustrated by the wages of graduates from elite institutions, resulting in a tendency for merit-based financial aid to replace needs-based financial aid (p12, Frank). A proposed solution is the use of collusion between education providers to show restraint in merit-based inducements. An example of this sort of market is illustrated by Hussain et. al., in their review of university quality and graduate wages in the U.K., based on comparison of first year SAT scores and earnings. Their review suggests a six percent wage difference per standard deviation in quality, with higher returns at the top of the distribution. This wage premium has increased over time and is considered to be comparable with studies in the United States.

Taken as a whole, the four studies illustrate the extent of social stratification in the higher education system, potential solutions to this issue and highlight tendencies that may increase it. The study by Arum, in particular with its international empirical backing and widespread propositions, indicated the importance of expansion and diversification (of tertiary programmes, not necessarily institutions) to reduce inequality, and acknowledged the complex relationship with privitised funding sources which can improve opportunities to a point where it becomes a contributing factor to inequality. Of particular concern is the desire of higher education institutions to be one of the "elite universities" which emphasizes exclusion and inequality. Whilst there is certainly an argument for graduated standards, this should more be the case of the type of degree, not the institution.

On this matter, and relevant for the course as a whole, perhaps the discussion would care to consider recent announcements by the new Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, who has indicated that he is more interested in a policy of "quality" in higher education rather than "quantity" in attainment and inclusion targets. What will this mean for stratification in higher education?


Richard Arum, Adam Gamoran, Yossi Shavit, More Inclusion Than Diversion : Expansion, Differentiation, and Market Structure in Higher Education, in Stratification in Higher Education, Stanford University Press, 2007, p1-35

Mark E. Engberg (2012) Pervasive Inequality in the Stratification of Four-Year College Destinations, in Equity & Excellence in Education, 45:4, 575-595, DOI: 10.1080/10665684.2012.717486

R. H. Frank (1999) Higher education: the ultimate winner-take-all market? (CHERI Working Paper #2). Retrieved September 30, 2013, from Cornell University, ILR School site:

Iftikhar Hussain, Sandra Mcnally, Shqiponja Telhaj, (2009) : University quality and graduate wages in the UK, IZA discussion papers, No. 4043,

Response from Simon

Thanks for your summary overview Lev.

I found the Arum et al article particularly interesting and in light of your comments about Christopher Pyne's revealed quality over quantity intention, thought it relevant to re-mention the impending Entitlement Model to hit the WA VET sector at the start of 2014.

While Arum et al aren't entirely sure whether to place Australia in a binary or unified category (p.12), some of the dynamics of these dimensions are set to be in further flux. How VET sector and Uni sector institutions are oriented will change and with this comes significant implications for inclusion and access (and stratification).

If I could provide a hyperlink to a readily available and complete break down of WA's Entitlement Model I would, but many of the details of VET sector changes are not completely known even to public RTO's at the present moment. Relevant to some of these articles though, is the impact of fee increases on lower level qualifications and the introduction of VET-HELP for Diploma level courses and above, which is known and has had some attention in local media (ie West Australian).

For those students who face significant barriers to commencing, returning to or staying in study, the VET environment affords many with the 'first step' on the rung of the ladder. As the fees sit at present, many JSA's (Job Service Australia agencies that 'job-seekers' register with) will foot the bill for a new student's Certificate III qualification if they have been unemployed and had their needs identified as significant (based on a 'stream' system of decreasing job-readiness). This 6 months of fee support (and required 'activity' by the JSA) is often the beginning of a new study regime that many students see through to Cert IV or Diploma level, as they find work from their studies and develop the skills and personal resources to continue with higher level study. This is where students acquire what I would describe as the social and cultural capital required to succeed in an adult learning institution. Some of these students obviously continue on to University, either using their VET-sector Diploma as credit or entering University after completing their Cert IV-level qual.

With the proposed fee changes, many Cert III and Cert IV qualifications will rise by a $ factor of 2 or 3, so that where a JSA might have been prepared to pay for a concession-rate Cert III at around $400, they will be unlikely to pay the new concession rate of $1000-$1200. These figures vary from course to course, but in essence, the lowest 'rung' of the ladder is going to be out of reach for the most marginalised. The entry-level qualification is the usual starting point for most of the students that articulate from TAFE to Uni in my area (Health Sciences and Community Services)

This also has an impact up at the other end of the VET spectrum, where a Nursing Diploma will now cost more than $8000, so the financial benefit of attending a VET-level institution (and using VET-HELP) to start your Nursing studies becomes questionable. Some VET institutions will then not have enough student numbers (particularly in regional campuses) to be able to run such courses, and in many cases that VET-sector avenue will disappear. Similarly, this has similar implications for many other Diploma-level qualifications.

To reiterate, this is obviously WA government policy, with different States having come to different policy positions under a Federal government policy 'umbrella'. While Arum et al talk about the benefits of 'increasing the size of the pie', for those with the most barriers who might need VET for an entry point, their goal of reaching that 'pie' is about to get more difficult.

Rachel's LMS
Diversification and Stratification

I found the differences between America’s university system compared to Australia’s interesting and more so when looking at the Government involvement. For example, in America their Constitution does not mention education as a federal responsibility whereas in Australia it does. This makes for some interesting and diverse developments in each country (Eckel & King, 2004). Also, universities in Australia are going through mass change with quality assurance with AQF and TEQSA doing the review while in America it is primarily self-reviewed. We do have similarities in that our university education experience is becoming very expensive and either borne by the student or their parents rather than the tax payer. The other contrasting difference (which I actually really like) is the mobility of American students between institutions that doesn’t happen as easily in Australia. I think this is such an important point for Australian students and especially with diversification and equity because so many are not always gaining credentials through common paths but rather alternative pathways. A universal credited system across all VET and HE would be so much more beneficial. It is such a downer when one unit of credit does not equal the same at two different universities for example. This can deter students from enrolling in certain universities. And, let me just say the sports thing in American universities – I just don’t get that!

Duke’s (2004) story about the academic who lost the use of email after being too honest and intellectual is such a real sight into what we might be losing in view of “massification” of education, which reflects students concerns with car parking issues, rather than bigger issues – we all have a part to play I think. Stenstrom’s (2006) article on school-based learning to work-based learning was timely in our current situation with widening access for low-SES students and that the VET to HE pathway has much to offer. I also think that the aspect that students require remedial in areas of math, writing and reading is not just positioned in “community college” platform that is offered in America (Bahr, 2011) but this is happening extensively with little resources put in place for assistance for HE students in Australia. This is especially so when we so the amount of money universities spend on recruitment (Engberg, 2012), which leads into the debate around “winner takes all” market work in education.

Question 1: if Australia was to go along similar lines as College Universities how different do you think this would be to what we have in the VET sector when a student can study a degree but would then need to go onto HE for post graduate studies?

Question 2: Who would be best to give the power to in terms of Australia's system when it comes to a national view on student mobility - the universities or government and why?

Question 3: How can we acquire a balance between massification and keeping our acdemic intellecutal freedom from becoming "Big Brothered"?

News article from myself

In reference to an indirect issue for stratification in tertiary education, there is an interesting report in The Age from UQ concerning student success at primary and secondary schools through NAPLAN (assessments taken in years 3, 5, 7, and 9). Apparently private education, which are we are led to believe is the "high quality" variety, is not so much an issue in student success, but rather the home life of the student is significantly more important.

Children who attend private primary schools don't perform any better in NAPLAN tests than their peers at public schools, new research shows.

It was the children of a healthy birth weight, who grew up in higher socio-economic circumstances in homes filled with books and had mothers who didn't work long hours who performed best at NAPLAN.

..After controlling for factors like household income, health indicators and parent education level, researchers found there was no statistical difference in the academic achievement of children from similar backgrounds, regardless of which type of school they attended.

..''People who are sending their kids to public schools can be confident they're not disadvantaging their kids by doing so,'' one of the researchers, Professor of Health Economics Luke Connelly said. ''It's not the type of school that changes (the result), it's the things that are being done for the child at home.''

The role of developmental factors is also highlighted by the results....

Children who weighed less than 2.5 kilograms at birth, achieved ''significantly lower'' test scores, especially in grammar and numeracy, with the researchers suggesting low birthweight correlated with longer-term developmental delays.

Children whose parents had completed year 12 had higher test scores across all subjects. Students whose mothers worked long hours did worse in all tests except numeracy, yet the working hours of fathers had no impact on test results..

Natalie's response

I would be interested to analyse that research more closely, particularly state by state.

Living in two different low socioeconomic areas and believing in public education and the ideology of supporting the public system, my two oldest have gone to two different public schools, in two different areas.

My three children are all above birth weight, have been exposed to an academic culture within the home, and I was a stay at home parent when they were young.

It was devastating as a parent to see their love of learning disintegrate within the public education system as teachers struggled to constantly manage challenging behaviour from some students. As a result, student's education suffered and their learning was seriously hampered. I frequently helped out in the classroom and observed this with my own eyes. My children were placed next to the most disruptive children as a calming influence. Pleas to the principle for more support in the classroom for the teacher landed on deaf ears.

Efforts within the home could not compensate for the losses observed in the school environment. (This was observed at two different schools)

Certainly, public schools in higher socioeconomic areas appear to avoid the worst of it. Of course this is a commentary based on personal experience and observation.

Choosing to relocate them to the private education sector was the best move possible and we have not looked back. It took my oldest three years to catch up academically. Now in Year 10 she is in all the advanced classes, loves learning and is a straight A student.

My youngest at 5 years old has moved directly into the private education sector and is currently in Pre-primary. I am stunned by the massive difference in the quality of education already observed compared to my other two who began in the public sector.

As an advocate of equity in education it is deeply concerning

Sarah's response

“I'm obsessed with quality (and) growing the university sector in a way that is good for innovation, creativity, research, productivity and our society in general." (Pyne, 2013).

I was thinking about the statement made by Christopher Pyne and was thinking that in theory it sounded like a reasonable policy. Quality graduates attaining higher education standards over quantity seems sensible right? Then I started thinking about my nursing context.

I can’t remember the exact year, but one of the states higher ed providers dropped the entrance ‘ATAR’ from 70 to 55 (where it has remained). The theory stemming from the need to increase the quantity of graduates completing a bachelor in nursing to address future workforce shortages. This move was very unpopular within the nursing profession- the fear being that the professional standards and quality of registered nurses (RN) would drop.

I know there is a longitudinal study of these students in progress- it will be interesting to find out how many actually meet standards to graduate and how their social economic status impacts on their progression. This university could not be accused of trying to be ‘one of the elite’, and I would assume the research being completed currently will demonstrate a higher level of low-socio-economic students in their stratification of numbers.

Despite this drop in the entrance requirements to complete the Bachelor of nursing, Australia (like most western countries) face a nursing deficit. I am sure that the minister would be thinking more of the countries RN knowledge economy in this situation rather than the quality of graduates. Although, it dose seem like a slippery slope to ‘drop standards’ of entrance- but then its not like the University responsible will drop their academic standards and face accreditation issues….

Pyne 2013:

Julie's reponse

I have certainly found great interest in considering this topic of Stratification and its implications on Tertiary and Adult Education policy. In my view the simple reality in terms of sociology more broadly as long as there are social classes in existence where there is benefit (real or perceived) for those in ‘higher’ class then there will always be some level of stratification in the educational system. Those with power and privilege will always want to retain that power and privilege - and educational policy is hugely influenced by those with power and privilege. The likes of Harvard, Stanford etc will always want to retain a certain status of elitism because it does provide them with a way to separate them as higher status providers in a supply system of higher education. And retaining this status allows more broadly for society to identify the perceived top echelon of performers for higher paid more prestigious positions in the workforce. While I can certainly appreciated to get into such institutes you need to be a top performer but I absolutely agree that many of those people rated such have had all the resources and opportunity possible given to them in being able to access and participate in the whole educational process. How many people from lower SES backgrounds are just as, if not more intelligent, determined, and capable but just never got the right support from the beginning of their educations? I strongly believe that aspirations to participate in HE are formed much earlier in a person’s life and research supports that these aspirations are impacted by family attitudes to educations, parental support and expectations and the overall cultural environment so to me it would be a great interest to see how educational policy at the early childhood and primary level feed into those being made at the secondary and tertiary level.

Historically it can be seen that access to HE has always be shadowed by stratification – previously only the most privileged could afford to access further education. While we have certainly moved to a much broader diversified and inclusive educational marketplace giving greater access to HE for those from lower SES backgrounds there is still a significant way to go and I do think much could be done to the Australia HE system to better support this access. The changes that Simon references coming in to the WA VET sector in Entitlement Model are prime examples of how educational policy fails to adequately address the needs of more disadvantaged students. It seems that we started building a ladder to broader access but now are removing the first rung?! All of the topics that we have considered over the semester have reiterated to me that the more people are excluded from higher education the more they are excluded from the wider benefits in terms of social capital, politically as well as economically – so the more privileged retain their power and status because the broad majority of other’s cannot hope to get there.

If maximally maintained inequality means that despite expansion of HE, that inequality is only reduced when the advantaged class reaches saturation and that then effectively maintained inequality kicks in meaning inequality in the most selective tier of higher education, then really it seems that regardless of expansion there isn’t a true reduction in inequality just a different type!

In light of Pyne’s comments it will be interesting to see where Federal educational policies for higher education move too. I certainly have no issue with a focus on quality but will his lack of interest in the idea of achieving quota’s or target for more disadvantaged groups be a backward step? What will the potential impacts be on the Government’s overall Social Inclusion Policy? His reported statement - “My aspiration is to get as many people doing university education as want to do it and can do it effectively to maintain our quality in the process.” Is interesting to me – does this mean that they will look at ways to support students in HE so they “can do it effectively”? I second Belinda here – why can’t we aim to achieve both quantity and quality in HE in Australia?

One last post on stratification; how US universities subsidise wealthy students over the lower SES.

I'll let these stories speak for themselves. Also, if I say something about how I feel about this I'm likely to use inappropriate language.