Business & Finance, Economy, Flash Polls, Politics, Social Issues, Spring 2018 Articles

NC State students underestimate the privilege of their peers

In 2018, the U.S. suffers from historic and rapidly increasing levels of income inequality. This is almost inarguably a major problem.

According to a recent flash poll, though, NC State students seem blissfully unaware.

NC State prepares students for successful careers: (from left) Nick Conlon, Goutham Subramanian, Hartley LeRoy and Nick Sischo founded the startup, Trashr.

Last year, The New York Times reported that the growing income gap was affecting U.S. college students; more specifically, their ability to achieve financial success after graduation.  Using tax data collected by The Equality of Opportunity Project, researchers sought to determine how well students from poor families tend to fare in life after graduating from different schools. Each school was then rated based on its ability to provide students with “upward income mobility.” This is an important measure of colleges’ efficacy in providing a means for hard-working, intelligent students to place themselves in a better position than the one they were born in. After all, that’s the American dream… right?

Maybe not.

The study uses the same data to measure poor students’ access to different schools. As it turns out, schools that offer the best chance at upward mobility don’t often extend their hands to students from poor families.

With the 36th highest median parent income out of the 377 selective public colleges included in the study, NC State is no exception. While outstanding quality of education allows NCSU to boast an exceptional ability to provide upward mobility to students from poor families, there isn’t much evidence to suggest the university is doing enough to exercise that power.

Source: The New York Times

In a recent poll, we asked State students to take a guess at the median income of parents to students at NCSU and a few other North Carolina colleges. When asked to guess the median household income of students at NCSU, 92% of students surveyed estimated below the actual value. The median of all responses is just $70,000; the true median household income for NC State students is almost twice that, at $111,400. These results suggest that while State students have a pretty good understanding of how their peers compare with students at other schools, they dramatically underestimate the typical socioeconomic status of college students in general.



North Carolina College Mobility

Use the interactive tool below to learn more about the relationships between the selectivity of North Carolina colleges, the socioeconomic status of their students, and the financial outcomes of their graduates. Each blue bar represents the median income of students after graduating from a certain school; the corresponding red bullet indicates the median parent income of students attending that same school. The gradient of the bar shows the selectivity of the college it represents (less selective schools are represented by darker colored bars, and more selective schools are represented by lighter colored bars). Use the filter to the right to show only the schools you want, and drag your mouse over bars to see more information.

Issues relating to poor class mobility and historic levels of income inequality in America are not easy to address; they aren’t even easy to identify. Four accomplished researchers from Stanford, Brown, and Berkeley needed three years and access to fourteen years’ worth of anonymized administrative data just to highlight one key contributor to the issue. It’s not clear what or how much undergraduates at NC State can do to address the issue of income inequality – but acknowledging it is a great place to start.



853 students were asked to take this survey and 343 completed it.  However, we cannot report a margin of sampling error for this survey because our results come from on a non-probability sample.  Most of our surveys adhere to the theoretical principles of probability sampling, such as when every NCSU student has a non-zero and equal chance of being randomly invited to take a survey (and nearly all we contact respond to it).  Instead, only  students that previoulsy volunteered to receive our future surveys were asked to take this one. In short, if our respondents “chose us,”  we can’t use probability theory to calculate traditional diagnostic statistics, such as the margin of sampling error.   

Most industry professionals, however, agree that the margin of sampling error is overrated for evaluating the validity of polling results; if only 20% (or less!) of students respond to an invitation to take a survey, even when they were contacted at random, the subsequent sample doesn’t conform to the assumptions of probability theory.  We could present advanced statistics about the likely representativeness of our sample, but the benefit of generating those stats is outweighed by their complicatedness.  

That said, our panel data tends to parallel our probability sample results except when more Democrats answer our panel survey than are truly part of the NCSU community,  Since political partisanship is a fluid attitude and not a fixed characteristic, like age, we can’t be certain about the “true” percentage of Democrats (or Republicans).  These data are potentially biased as a result by giving Democrats’ opinions more weight than truly exists among undergraduates at State.

 For additional information about best practices for reporting on the precision of non-probability sampling, you can watch this “debate” and/or read this guidance for how to report on results from non-probability samples 


One Comment

  1. Robin E Burdette

    Great job Celeste!! I am so proud!

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