September 12, 2016

POLITICS & STUFF | The Problem of College Unaffordability

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Photo Courtesy of Rare

Arthur E. Levine once said, “When a quality education is denied to children at birth because of their parents’ skin color or income, it is not only bad policy, it is immoral.” It is because I believe education is a universal right, not a privilege, that I believe the United States federal government should help provide affordable college education through grants and federal aid.

First, the cost of college has become an obstacle in accessing increasingly necessary post-secondary education.

According to the US Department of Education, even when inflation was accounted for, “the cost of obtaining a university education in the US has soared 12 fold over the past three decades… [increasing] four times faster than the [that of] consumer goods, medical expenses, and food.” The uncontrolled increase in tuition in the years of recovering from a recession is making college an unattainable goal for millions of students, making the American Dream a privilege to those who already come from well-off families. In fact, Sara Goldrich-Rab and Nancy Kendall of the US Department of Education conducted a study in 2013 and found that those who come from low-income families are 12 to 16 times more likely to forgo college. However, in an era of fierce competition within the job market, those who do not have a college degree have little chance of climbing up the socioeconomic ladder. A study by Georgetown University found that by 2018, 63% of jobs will require a bachelor’s degree. However, with the price-tag on the average American college degree expecting to become more and more alarming, the demand for college-educated workers in our economy is projected to increase at double to rate of supply. In other words, not only will quality jobs be denied to those who come from low-income families unable to afford a college education, but thousands of jobs in America will also lack workers properly trained to take on the positions. College is a critical institution of higher learning that equips young adults with the knowledge, critical analysis skills and independence for the real world and for the job market. However, children born into low-income households will have little chance, relative to their fortunate peers, and to no fault of their own, to access these invaluable skills. Julia Isaacs of the Brookings Institute found that, without college education, children born in the bottom income bracket have the highest likelihood of staying at the bottom. The National Center for Education Statistics elaborates on this idea when they found, unsurprisingly, “Postsecondary attendance rates are [significantly] lower for youth from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and those [of Black or Hispanic orientation].” In fact, the median white family has a net worth of more than $100,000, but Black and Latino households have a median net worth of $5,000 and $6,000, respectively. When considering race in the discussion of American socioeconomics, it becomes apparent that households belonging in the lower-income brackets are overwhelmingly Black and Hispanic. Thus, it is necessary to decrease the cost of post-secondary education because it will not only equip future leaders with education and training to move our economy forward, but it also gives access to more opportunities for ambitious young adults across the board to pull their families up the socioeconomic ladder.

This is why I support the federal government allocating education subsidies to shoulder the costs when states fall short of making post-secondary education more affordable.

Currently, state governments are doing a poor job of decreasing the costs of their colleges; the New York Federal Reserve explains that “increasing tuition at public colleges was in large part driven by state budget cuts.” Because I believe the education of the youth cannot be compromised by state governments’ $5.1 trillion debt, the federal government should work together with the states to invest in the future of our labor force.

Currently more than 60% of black undergraduates and 50% of Hispanic undergraduates rely on federal Pell Grants to shoulder their tuition. This is crucial for completing college because the US Department of Education found that “need-based grant aid increases enrollment among low and moderate-income students, reduces likelihood of dropping out, and increases likelihood of performing better.” This is needed because Professor Robert Lynch and Patrick Oakford of Harvard University conducted a study and found that if the education and achievement gap between white students and Black/Hispanic students were closed through better access to higher education for everyone regardless of background, the US would tap into an overwhelming amount of human labor previously underutilized due to lack of education and training.


Second, making education more accessible to millions of more Americans benefits not only the graduates but the country as a whole.

This is because the National Education Association explains increase in overall education attainment in a nation increases the nation’s stock of human capital and thus increases its aggregate output, income, greater quality of life, and has benefits to all of society. The upgraded skill level of the workforce would increase across the board. “Closing achievement gaps would boost GDP by 5.8 percent, or $2.3 trillion in 2050… this implies $765 billion in greater GDP, or more than $1,900 for every man, woman, and child in the United States—$7,600 for every family of four.” Other studies support this idea, finding that for ever $1 of public investment into community colleges alone, taxpayers get back $7. In addition, because those who have college education are significantly less likely to experience poverty at any time in their lives and utilize food stamps and similar government-sponsored programs, millions more dollars would’ve been saved from taxpayers’ wallets.

Because I believe it is time to grant more people the right to education and make the American Dream a reality, the federal government should distribute more grants and federal aid to make college affordable again.