The Hechinger Report is a national nonprofit newsroom that reports on one topic: education. Sign up for our weekly newsletters to get stories like this delivered directly to your inbox.

Patrick Hughes has a quintessentially American story. The son of Jamaican immigrants, he was raised in a lower-middle-class section of Queens, New York. His parents, particularly his mother, urged him to go to college.

“Education is the path to break the cycle that my parents were fighting so hard to break,” Hughes said.

If you want to move up in America, go to college. That’s the advice people get. But new academic research suggests that chances for students from poor families in America to move up through higher education are shrinking. Elite colleges still don’t admit many students from poor backgrounds, and public universities are under increasing financial pressure to enroll wealthier students who can afford full tuition. For poor students, college isn’t the mobility-maker it once was.

That trend is happening at a time when social mobility in America is stagnating. The chances an American child will earn more than his or her parents has been declining: Children born in the 1940s had a 90 percent chance of surpassing their parents; kids born in 1980 had only a 50 percent chance of doing better. It’s now more difficult to break out of the class you’re born into. Children of well-to-do families are likely to stay that way, and children of poor families are likely to stay poor.

This APM Reports documentary explains what’s going on. We visit a college coming to terms with its own role in perpetuating class divides and another that has long been a “mobility maker” – but is struggling to stay that way. Get the full story here and find out if college worked for Hughes.

APM reports will be releasing three other documentaries throughout the month. They explore the resurgence of apprenticeship programs under the Trump administration, and why more than half of American students aren’t proficient readers. You can get all of the documentaries by subscribing to the Educate Podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

The Hechinger Report provides in-depth, fact-based, unbiased reporting on education that is free to all readers. But that doesn't mean it's free to produce. Our work keeps educators and the public informed about pressing issues at schools and on campuses throughout the country. We tell the whole story, even when the details are inconvenient. Help us keep doing that.

Join us today.

Letters to the Editor

At The Hechinger Report, we publish thoughtful letters from readers that contribute to the ongoing discussion about the education topics we cover. Please read our guidelines for more information. We will not consider letters that do not contain a full name and valid email address. You may submit news tips or ideas here without a full name, but not letters.

By submitting your name, you grant us permission to publish it with your letter. We will never publish your email address. You must fill out all fields to submit a letter.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *