Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Stratification of College

This is written in response to a blog named "The Raid on Student Aid" I read at about college education funding...

I agree with you, but only partially. I think you need to understand more of your topic and then make an informed choice – rather than having a knee jerk reaction based on a few phone calls and a very bad bill that is likely un-passable in the house. Remember that one way interest groups keep access to the congress is to find new ways to surprise the congress members with action. I agree with you, that action should occur, but check your instant gut stance.

Having an informed choice is convenient to do so now as yesterday; the College Board released its latest figures. ( The senator I work for: Senator Harkin in DC has been looking into these stats as a few years back he was the sponsor of a bill to counter the decrease in Pell grants.

The good news: After two years of rapid growth, college tuition slowed to single digit increases. Nationwide, the average four year college tuition rate has grown 7.1 percent to land at $5,491. Private universities like Marquette grew at about 5.9 percent to land at $21,235. Also, aggregate financial aid (grants/scholarships) is also going up.

College Board surveyed 2,700 schools to come up with these stats. (over the minimum required for effective statistics).

It is important to note with all these facts, the ACTUAL amount a student will pay is much lower than the sticker price a university published. For example, the four year college rate is about $2,200 for public colleges after grants, other things are considered.

    4 main points in this study are:

  • Student loans are growing faster than grant aid.

  • Merit based growth is outpacing need based ait - meaning colleges are likely catering to the well off and afluent with good college prep experience.

  • College costs contiue to rise... salaries increase, utilities.. etc.

  • Low income students are still finishing college at much lower rates than higher income peers.

I urge you to look these facts up for yourself and you will find them as well.

Joni Finney, VP of National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education thought tuition could have been restrained more… but wasn't. (

She noted that the average tuition increase outpaces growth in the national median family income.

Of all of this, what I feel is particularly important is not just what the overall funding is for education, but rather, what these statistics say about the separation between rich and poor and the elimination of the middle class.

In his book "A theory of Justice", John Rawls in 1971, claimed America had a 'social contract' in which certain goods and services are produced for the betterment of the entire society. For example - helping students who could not otherwise afford college.

I urge you to look up the article entitled “Financial aid, access and America’s social contract with higher education� by Thomas C Green from the College and University Magazine. Specifically, look at pages 5 – 9. I could waste your time by citing him continually, but much of what I say below is mentioned in his article.

President Harry Truman appointed a Commission on higher education for Democracy when he was in office, and chose George Zook to head it. Zook surveyed the state of higher education and found that "for the great majority of our boys and girls, the kind and amount of education they may hope to attain depends not on their own abilities, but on the family or community into which they happened to be born..." (Zook, 1947)

Commissions by Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy reinforced these initial findings as well. From recommendations of these commissions, the Perkins Loan program sprung up. Kennedy also gained passage of an “omnibus bill� which essentially expanded graduate fellowships and guaranteed a student loan program.

The Civil Rights act of 1964 and the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965 were then passed. The HEA established much of the skeleton for financial aid today… what is left at least. The reauthorization of the HEA in 1972, established the Basic Education Opportunity Grant, (known as the federal Pell grant today) which targets grants on a sliding scale to the poorest college students in the US.

All this was short lived however, once the republicans took control. Many of these reforms were rolled back, and even though some may say spending on Pell Grants increased from mid 1970 to 1980, the total federal educational grants declined. This increase in Pell Grants – for a brief time – immediately raised the participation level of Blacks and Hispanics in higher education.

The Passage of the Middle Income Student Assistance Act expanded benefits then to people who were not economically disadvantaged. MISAA was to allow any student regardless of need to utilize federal loans to pay college expenses. Since its passage, federal spending on loans has outpaced need based grant spending. Pell Grants also declined. In 1977, they made up 46% of student aid, and in 2002, they accounted for 19%. Student loans in 1992, accounted for 75% of the total federal aid budget.

Today we now see rise to merit based scholarships. Why is this? Using a study from the article I mentioned earlier, a merit based program in Georgia was used as the test case. Most participants were disproportionately white, compared to the very few blacks who were involved. It would be easy to say here that it is because blacks are not smart enough. BE CAREFUL.

According to Heller, Georgia’s program promoted participation from students who were largely middle class and therefore, already more likely to attend postsecondary education. Most studies will tell you that poverty leads to a decline in educational performance, regardless ‘smart’ someone really is.

A study by St. John (which is quoted in this article I spoke of earlier) called the balanced access model, theorizes that both the expectation and availability of financial aid affect student and family decisions about college attendance. Essentially, if one thinks aid is not available due to poverty circumstances, one will create a self fulfilling prophecy that college is out of reach.

We as a people need to look at our history and see what we have decided to be our social contract through action. From there, we need to preserve this thinking and carry out what we have started long ago from Brown V. Board of Education in 1954. We need to see the reality of this separation of rich and poor and we need to think beyond our own selfish interests when considering higher education. We need to think for everyone, not just ourselves. Along with this, we must understand why some are able to attend college and why some others are not. If we were to switch places with the people of Africa for example, would we think of ourselves as poor and undeserving of education for a reason? No. Because one is poor in America, it does not mean they should have their opportunities taken away because they do not deserve it, in favor of students who were in some cases given the experiences they needed to succeed. Granted, not every student has been given his or her scholarship on a platter – but things need to be done to level the playing field. Affirmative action? Yes. We need to hold to this social contract we Americans fought hard for in the past, and we should not let it erode to the retro ruling of the Republican party and their favoritism for the elitists. This will destroy America.

Where will I get this money? I would simply exercise some redistributive political action. I would rather not detail this here as I do not want this to be the focus of this argument, however, there are many areas of the budget which do not need funds. (like the defense budget.) Some of these merit based programs could also be cut, in favor of raising the lowest bars first. Given, I do believe merit based programs are good – one must prioritize, and getting a general segment of our population up to a given minimum will produce stronger economic results than the rise of a few to unusually high status positions.

I was planning on spending more time on this blog, but really, I don’t have the time. I do like the discussion though. Nonetheless, this should have been useful in some way. Do you (the reader) think we need to honor this social contract we started years ago? In a contract, one cannot ditch out on an end of the bargain just because one sees it fit to do so. I would argue, this is what we are doing to the next generation.

College students – rather than getting riled up about insane legislature which would mean the death of republicans due to the false fear an interest group has put upon you – how about thinking out of yourselves and looking at the ugly statistics of the failing poor in this country which Katrina just managed to pull the sheets off of for a very short time frame?

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