As I grew up, I heard one consistent mantra when it came to success in life: get an education!
As a matter of fact, everyone around me taught me and all of my friends to get all of the education we possibly could. A good education provided a ticket to success and the development and fulfillment of many dreams.
I think all of us operated on this basic assumption.
I also think that most of us continue to accept the premise and the notion that in this country anyone can progress beyond their origins thanks to the availability of great educational opportunities and options. All you have to do is take advantage of the opportunities that are readily available.
Today, sadly, these notions are naive at best and simply contrary to the facts.
First, the cost of higher education, even at our public institutions, has increased dramatically over the past decade. At the same time, funds for programs like the Pell Grant have been repeatedly slashed. It costs more to pay for a university education at a time when funds for low-income students continue to evaporate.
Second, and even more dramatic, public universities pursue policies today that block access to the poor. A shift away from traditional, need-based assistance to poor students to a "merit formula" that unfairly benefits students from affluent families is making it harder and harder for bright students from low-income families to make it into college life.
The Education Trust, a nonpartisan foundation devoted to monitoring education in the nation, recently released a report that should open eyes. Read the entire report at:
The report's executive summary includes this telling paragraph:
"The nationÂs 50 flagship universities serve disproportionately fewer low-income and minority students than in the past, according to a new report by the Education Trust. Students in the entering and graduating classes at these schools look less and less like the state populations those universities were created to serve. The study shows how financial aid choices made by these prestigious public universities result in higher barriers to college enrollment and success among low-income students and students of color."
Public institutions of higher education were founded on the idea that, in exchange for citizen support in the form of tax dollars, they would devote themselves to opening broad access to the advantages andopportunitiess of a higher education for anyone interested in doing the work.
Such policy is virtually gone at major state institutions that now operate like exclusive private universities.
Talk to anyone at one of the major public universities in Texas. You'll likely hear about how many students applied, as compared to the fraction that made it in. You'll also hear about SAT averages--a measure that unduly favors the well-to-do students who have had the advantage of prep courses and prep schools.
The major state universities also compete for students from higher-income families at the expense of the those from poor families, even though their grades and performance make it clear that once in the classroom they do very well.
The sad fact is these poor students don't enjoy the options of the wealthy. For the poor, it is a state university or nothing most of the time. Now, that option is narrowing dramatically.
Here's a real shocker: aid to families earning over $100,000 annually has more than quadrupled at these major state universities. In fact, the average institutional grant tostudentss from high-income families is larger than the average grant to low or middle-income students.
The result? High-performing students from low-income backgrounds are far less likely to attend college than students from affluent backgrounds and they are less likely to complete 4-year degrees if they do attend.
So, if a college education is the price of passage into middle class America, these trends mean that upward mobility for entire groups of people is pretty much a cruel myth attainable by only a comparativehandfull of those who begin well behind the starting line.
Looking for an example of broad based, systemic injustice rooted firmly in current public policy?
Look no further, you've found it!