Friday, June 8, 2012

Is College Only for the Rich?

Once upon a time, a college education was the almost exclusively the privilege of the well-to-do. The occasional middle or working class student managed to slip through the gates of the ivory tower (usually a student both white and male), but it wasn't until the 1960s that the idea of equity in higher education was acknowledged as an important key to improving lives and securing the economic, social and cultural future of our country.


Enter the state university and college systems such as the University of California, which provided an affordable world-class education to thousands who otherwise would have lacked access to post-secondary opportunities. These public colleges and universities of course didn't resolve equity issues altogether (affirmative action remains a source of heated debate in many states), but they did offer unprecedented opportunity to countless students like my father, who rose from a family of migrant workers where a high school diploma was a rarity to earn an MBA from UC Berkeley and build a highly successful professional career. A generation later, his kids continued the new family tradition of college attendance, earning some of our handful of degrees at University of California campuses. We're living proof that the UC mission worked.

When I attended Cal Berkeley in the late 1980s, I had a part-time job to supplement the $1600 per year my parents paid for my tuition. I had no idea what a Stafford loan was, and the idea that one would need to borrow money to attend college was unheard of among my fellow classmates. Now, in my private practice as a college admissions consultant, I inform clients every day that the once-affordable UC education many of their unsuspecting parents still believe they can have will possibly set them back in excess of $100,000. Even worse, as the Regents of the University of California admitted in a recent New York Times article, budget cuts seriously threaten the quality of the world-class education they're paying a high price to receive.

The outlook is grim: Campuses are impacted, programs are being cut, and the cost of tuition has risen beyond the means of many families. Student who just a few years ago would have easily found places at California State or University of California campuses are being rejected simply because demand exceeds supply. Those who are accepted often face the prospect of taking on massive loan debt to attend. Thanks to the budget shortfalls that have cut course offerings in the community college system, the strategy of completing two years at a community college and then transferring to save on college costs is no longer a simple option.

Where does this leave the middle and working class college student, particularly those who don't qualify for state and federal grant aid? What if one doesn't want to assume tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt which will ultimately impact one's ability to finance a typical "adult" lifestyle, especially when the current economic situation means there is no guarantee of a job at the end of the degree?

Is it possible that, just as our country was beginning to make progress toward higher education equity irrespective of class, race, or gender, a college education has once again become the privilege of the wealthy and the impossible dream of everyone else?

As the recent revelation that the College Board intended to offer a "special" summer administration of the SAT to facilitate greater access (for those who could pay $4,500 to attend an exclusive prep camp) to early admission opportunities at highly selective colleges shows, the system continues to work behind the scenes to support the continued success of those who need it the least.

Who's looking out for the rest of our students? Every cut to state-funded education is just one more brick in the wall between those who will learn and succeed, and those who, through no fault of their own, will be forced to settle for less.

1 comment:

Lena T Siders said...

Many are choosing college education for spending their time with friends and money. This is a common question rising in all mind. The college paper writing service hep is a great help for middle income students to complete their class works and assignment works.