The level of education of the parents – and especially of the mother, who is usually the one who helps with the homework – not only determines whether a young person will graduate from high school and go to university, but even what career they will enter. Starting with the fact that a rich young person is three times more likely to go to college than a poor one, a series by the Ministry of Universities, which records the data of all degree enrollees in Spain between 2016 and 2020, shows that children of high-wage professionals are more likely to study careers in the sciences (50%), health sciences (49.8%) and engineering (49%) and those from low socioeconomic backgrounds, the humanities (40% ) and social sciences (41.7%) %).
The difference in the ministry’s data is greater if parents’ educational level is taken into account: 57% of those enrolled in Social Sciences have one or two parents with a university degree, 68% in the case of Engineering, 58% in Humanities, 65% in health sciences and 64% in natural sciences. Science and health science careers taken by the wealthy are perceived as more prestigious, have higher admissions scores—disadvantaged people are held back by educational inequality and grade inflation at private centers―they are those with higher difficulty and have the most expensive prices for their level of experimentation. For example, a first enrollment for geography costs 755 euros in Castile and Leon, and veterinary 1339.
A 2019 Complutense University (UCM) Student Observatory study based on first-year enrollments supports this data, but goes further and differentiates by careers. While over 60% of parents (male) of medical, dental and pharmacy entrants have degrees and high salaries, the same is true for only 33% of optician entrants. All four are health science careers, but optics used to be a degree ie. before with three courses, and now after four years you can work as an optician; while a medical career lasts six years and one passes before the graduate hopefully starts earning as an MIR [médico interno residente]. The same is the case with education, an old diploma which is completed in four years with relative ease and can be started to practice in an agreed or private centre.
“We know that when there were short careers and long careers [antes del Plan Bolonia], the less advantaged student body tended to choose the short, diplomas to reduce the risk,” explained Vera Sacristán, director of the Observatory of the University System ―of the four public campuses of Barcelona―, last Tuesday in an appearance before a congressional committee to speak for the new university law. And it keeps happening. “Then and now [los jóvenes con pocos recursos] choose a more professional career, thinking about the profession rather than the vocation. In Catalonia, they do the registration based on perceived difficulty, which corresponds to dropout rates, repetition of subjects…”. Engineering is always in this segment.
“The main cost of being a student is that you can’t work or you have to reduce the time you devote to work. That’s called opportunity cost,” says one of the authors from UCM, Maria Fernández-Meliso. “Then there are the tuition costs that can be alleviated with scholarships. But although there are compensatory grants for cases of extreme vulnerability, even the most generous do not cover the opportunity costs. And then there are material costs. in rates [la Administración] It includes the cost of internships – very expensive in the case of medicine or dentistry – but they also have an impact on students because in these experimental careers they are asked to do more expensive things to follow the course. Teaching, social work or law don’t force you to put in so many resources”.
Helena Troiano of the University of Barcelona analyzed 10 careers in 2013 and concluded – which has persisted over time – that poor new students “tend to avoid the most prestigious degree programs where they can feel like strangers both academically and socially,” and look for “clear occupational profiles” that don’t pose high risks. Yet 1.2 million college graduates are at risk of poverty, according to the Active Population Survey (EPA). In addition, Troiano argues, they feel more indebted to their family than the wealthy because of the financial strain associated with education.
The biggest gap occurs in the double degrees born with the Bologna plan, which require five years of study, incompatible with work and significant financial costs: a diploma with an average price in Madrid costs 2,715 euros, and a double degree: 3,269. 90% of those, who study the double degree in mathematics and physics at UCM – the career with the highest degree of access in all of Spain – have a mother from the university and a comfortable economic situation. On the contrary, as in the simple degrees of education, in the double degree of teachers for children and primary stage, less than 40% are daughters and sons of students.
The ministry’s series has been disaggregating enrollees by their parents’ employment since 2016, and a clear phenomenon has been observed: parents of enrollees increasingly have better-skilled jobs. At the state university, the percentages of households in which one parent has a medium occupation (from 16% to 19%) and a high occupation (from 20% to 25%) increased, while low occupations or unemployment decreased (from 26% to 21%). The private university, although it seems in a different league – annual tuition ranges from 5,000 to 20,000 euros, depending on the center and the degree – also houses middle-class young people (22% of the student body) whose families make great efforts based on credits to study the desired career, mostly because they did not have access to the public one.
The richest parents of the enrollees are concentrated, as expected, in the most populated cities where the big companies and the administration are located: Madrid (52%, both or one parent has a high salary) and Catalonia (50% %). In contrast, only 31% in Extremadura, the Balearic Islands and Castilla-La Mancha have high wages.
Despite this difference in occupations by region, the inclusion of the middle and lower classes in the university is evident. article Social background of students, published in a journal of the Ministry of Education at the height of the Franco regime (1960), describes a panorama diametrically opposed to the present one. In that year there were 12 universities and 13 technical colleges – now there are 50 public universities and 40 private – so enrollment was sometimes due “simply to the reason that their elders resided in the capital of the university district, and at other times to relatively economic status. solvency of the parents”, the text explains. Studying in another city cost an average of 25,000 pesetas (€150) per year, there were only 62,000 students and 23% received some kind of scholarship in 1960 – known as school protection – paid by the state, provincial or municipal administration or trade unions. Since then, enrollment has increased by 25% and 44% receive financial support.
There are currently almost 1.6 million students – there are master’s degrees, distance campuses and university campuses in 200 municipalities – and last year 321,000 registered students benefited from a scholarship (21.8% of bachelor’s degrees and 12% of master’s degrees). 75% of students in 1960, according to data from the National Institute of Statistics (UNED), were on the father’s side (the revolution in the classroom had not yet occurred) children of liberal professionals with education – lawyers, engineers, doctors or architects – or banking and administrative staff.
In many cases the successors were licensed to continue their own practice, research or office. 7% were rancher and farmer families ―“included owners, administrators, settlers, and laborers,” the article said―although predictably almost all were descendants of landowners. The military had a strong presence (5%), while the most disadvantaged barely had access: 0.6% were children of wage earners and artisans, 1.8% drivers and 1% service staff. In higher education, the percentages by occupation of the parents are almost the same.
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