In a front-page story in USA Today on April 9, 2007, Mary Beth Marklein wrote that "today's freshmen are financially better off than ever before, and the gap is widening." She was reporting on research from UCLA's Cooperative Institutional Research Program, which has been tracking trends in higher education for about 40 years. The UCLA report didn't include community college freshman but is, nevertheless, an alarming indication that college may be unaffordable to an increasing percentage of potential students outside the upper reaches of family income. The UCLA data indeed indicate that an inexorably increasing percentage of incoming freshman in four-year public and private nonprofit institutions are from the upper reaches of the U.S. income demographic. A possible explanation, though not a logical certainty, is that four-year nonprofit institutions have become unaffordable to an increasing proportion of the pool of qualified potential students.
I'll follow up this post with another that presents my evidence-driven explanation for this explanation that I believe to be, in fact, a verifiable trend.