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Cheaper Access to Education Needed for Equality.

by on April 3, 2013

I came across two great articles recently that if tied together present the major problem for post secondary education and that problem is; making it more equal for lower income levels.

The first article points out how more access to college education has been a success, but graduating college hasn’t followed suit, and has become more unequal:

“In higher education, as in health care, America boasts many of the world’s best institutions but produces disappointing results overall. Access is improving: Since 1972, the share of low-income high school graduates who start college immediately has about doubled, to more than half, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Yet nearly half of students who enroll in a postsecondary institution don’t complete a degree within six years. For African-Americans and Hispanics, the number is about three-fifths. Despite Washington’s huge investment in access, since 1970 the gap in college completion rates between students from the bottom and top fifths of the income ladder has doubled. Those from the top fifth are now seven times more likely to graduate than those from the bottom.

Debt compounds the problem. Stagnant family incomes and rising tuition expenses—driven by both growing costs and shrinking state support for public colleges—have forced students to borrow twice as much annually as a decade ago. Student debt has soared past $1 trillion (outpacing credit-card debt) and, as the Education Trust notes, low-income students are more likely to borrow, and less likely to finish, than higher-income classmates.

The other piece shows the same problem but does it with obvious graphs that hit you in the face with reality:

While it is apparent that access to college has improved, what has lagged and become grossly more unequal, is the ability to afford it and thus graduate. One issue with affordability is that education is not an industry in which productivity gains make things cheaper. Productivity has relatively stayed the same in schools, and thus the cost for education will rise, because wages to pay teachers will inevitably rise.

But teacher salaries have barely risen for it to be blamed for rising education costs. The biggest culprit has been the lack of state spending on education. This report here: Subsidies reducing, tuition payments increasing (page 31 and beyond), shows how subsidies to help pay for education aren’t keeping pace with the rising costs (1,000% increase in 3 decades), so out of pocket student tuition has to make up for that (credit bubble anyone?).

Another alarming concern is in the amount of students who are working while in college (not a bad thing if part time, as studies show), but full time students that worked longer than part time has increased (with an obvious drop in employment after the recession), and working full time has a negative effect on grades:

“The percentage of full-time college students ages 16 to 24 who were employed increased from 34 to 52 percent between 1970 and 2000 and then decreased to 40 percent in 2010 (see table A-37-1). Among full-time students in this age group, 10 percent worked 20–34 hours per week in 1970, 22 percent in 2000, and 17 percent in 2010. The percentage of these students who worked 35 or more hours per week increased from 4 percent in 1970 to 9 percent in 2000, then fluctuated between 9 and 6 percent between 2000 and 2010.”

The lack of funding post secondary education is a major burden for college students and it needs to be addressed with funding that matches the rise we have seen in tuition costs. The evidence points at the rising financial burden as a major hurdle to remaining competitive in the job market, by forcing new graduates to take low wage jobs instead of waiting for higher wage jobs, which hinders American global competitiveness, so it is not a generational problem but a national one.

  1. Erik J permalink

    I think a lot of people believe that you need to go to college in order to have a successful career. When I was in college I saw a lot of students that didnt care to be there. A lot of them didnt put the effort in when it came to homework, and during lab time most of them were on the internet stealing information. Some people just dropped out while other ones came close to not passing. It comes down to what you put into college is what you will get from college.

    As far as getting a good paying job from the degree, I dont see that any more right now with most degrees. A lot of industries are cutting down on workforce and they are putting more responsibilities on employees for less pay while the cost of living is going up.

    Between my wife and I, we are paying close to $800 per month in student loans. This will keep us down for a good 10 years if not more. The sad part is that my wife is not even using her degree and having mine has not brought any additional income.

    My advice for young people would be to get into a industry early that you like, and work your way up from the bottom. Take a position in a mail room if you have to. As long as you get your foot in the door, you will start learning that industry and hopefully you can make your way up the ladder. Some of these companies will pay for you education, so take advantage of that. Having a large student loan to pay each month for a good 10 years is a terrible feeling.

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