11 November 2012
College: Who Pays?
Many students in America enter college with the primary goal of obtaining a pre-professional credential; which implies a fighting chance in the current job market. A college education in America has become synonymous with a flourishing middle-class and thus a stable economy. Ironically, the current state of the economy and America’s system of higher education are seemingly at odds; the economy, in its current state, hinders the growth of higher education as it pertains to equality and availability to all. This means that the scarce availability of funds for higher education make it impossible for there to be equal access to higher education in America. The American system of higher education, unable to accommodate the needs of students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, perpetuates inequality in society and creates a system that sustains the wealth of Americas most privileged, while limiting the prospects of the former. This means that for a growing majority of the population, opportunities to pursue higher education are becoming increasingly narrow; and the goal and implications of obtaining a pre- professional credential are seen as risky. The pursuit of higher education can be seen as risky for low- income students because of low graduation rates and high accumulations of debt which are a result of the deficiency of government funding for grant programs and public institutions of higher education. Students from low-income families with aspirations to pursue higher education are at a huge disadvantage both financially and educationally and are faced with these realities when making the decision to actually attend college; and more often than not, these realities are the basis for decisions not to attend. The exclusion of this group of people, whether self-inflicted or institutionalized, is a regression back to the exclusionary history of higher education in America. This regression will potentially create a rising generation within society that is not adequately educated for competition in our increasingly globalized society. Most importantly, however, this will create a generation that is unable to conceptualize the benefits of a college education as a means of exercising and maintaining our most basic human rights, and unable to instill this value into the consciousness of the younger generation. The purpose of a college education will be viewed solely as a prerequisite for individuals seeking financial success; with no regard for the humanistic values, or the democratic principles to be attained from the process. The prospect of a “universal college education” is the only way to mitigate the many challenges facing the American system of higher education, or, more specifically, financing American public post- secondary education. A “universal college education” that acknowledges the “right” to education and grants admission to any and all individuals with the desire and capacity to pursue higher education, regardless of financial means, is admissible on the basis that education is crucial to the maintenance of democracy.
In his book,” College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be”, Andrew Delbanco discusses the purposes of a college education. Delbanco suggests that there are three basic purposes for a college education. The first, education is good for the economy; the more people with a college education the better the health of the economy. A “healthy” economy is linked to the increased earning power of individuals with a college degree, which Delbanco states, “long ago supplanted the high school diploma as the minimum qualification for entry into the skilled labor market.”(25) This means that individuals who earn college degrees have increased access to jobs both existing and forthcoming, while individuals without have limited prospects now and even less in the future. Delbanco highlights this purpose of college as a vehicle for social mobility as most...