Thursday, April 25, 2019

Guest Post: New Study Shows Public Universities Prioritize Wealthy White Students

Kate Harveston is a political writer from Pennsylvania. Her favorite topics are feminist-focused, but she writes on a wide variety of social and cultural issues. If you enjoy her work, you can follow her on Twitter or visit her blog, Only Slightly Biased.

It's hardly news that being born white to wealthy parents in the U.S. comes with significant advantages. As the most unequal nation out of all developed countries, those born with the proverbial silver spoon receive everything from higher quality health care to ease with college admissions. The recent scandal involving actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin shows the extent that wealth and fame matter as much if not more than academic prowess when it comes to getting into top schools.
Minorities and the poor have a difficult enough time breaking the cycle of poverty without the American educational system making it harder. Yet despite the fact that the U.S. prides itself on equal opportunity for all, public universities have failed to provide those born into certain families and zip codes the ability to obtain degrees that open doors. This needs to change.
What Researchers Found
Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Arizona found that public universities recruit out-of-state students from affluent areas more than they court in-state candidates. This practice reveals the avarice which exists even in those institutions presumably dedicated to the greater good. Out-of-state tuition rates mean more revenue for colleges, but at the cost of opportunities for students who meet all entrance requirements save one — the size of their parents' bank account.
Without question, this reality flies in the face of the western ideal of boot strapping as a recipe for success in life. Furthermore, the revelations highlight the extremes of growing income inequality and the societal structures which allow such gaps to widen. The findings also shed dismal light upon the status of race relations in the U.S.
In a nation whose beacon of freedom asks the world to send America their tired, their poor, their huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the study serves as a depressing, yet necessary, reminder that ideals like creating equal opportunities for all requires concrete human action. Many other nations have made far larger strides toward equality than the U.S. Germans, for example, pay little to no tuition, yet can study at some of the most esteemed universities in the world.
Most American college graduates not born into privilege leave school with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, and given current average wages, shelling out the dough for a degree can set young people back financially for decades. Only some are fortunate enough to secure employment where their bosses help to offset their educational costs, while many others continue making student loan payments well into their 40's, 50's or beyond.
Students from disadvantaged backgrounds already face enormous difficulty not only in affording tuition but also in managing the incidental costs of higher education. Textbooks can cost thousands, especially at the graduate level, and while grants and scholarships exist to help, they can prove hard to come by. Many who grew up in poorer homes began working at young ages, providing them with experience but little else to show for their efforts other than passing out exhausted halfway through an all-nighter.
Certainly attaining a university degree isn't the only pathway to financial security. Many who instead opt to attend trade school do earn more than their college-educated peers. However, American youth need role models like teachers, counselors and nurses who come not from privileged backgrounds but from similar circumstances. Asking low-income youth dwelling on the wrong side of the tracks to listen to adults who have no idea what it feels like to go to bed hungry, ever, insults these young people's tenacity to persist despite overwhelming odds.
Fixing the U.S. University Problem
In order to rectify public universities' recruitment of predominantly white, affluent youth over local lower-income students, guidelines mandating the percentages of in-state to out-of-state students will lead to higher acceptance rates of low-income learners. Some schools, such as the University of California, have instituted such measures voluntarily. However, legislators may need to step in and impose such limits on colleges loath to voluntarily comply.
Additionally, universities can switch their recruitment efforts to target those from more varied backgrounds. Politicians should take care to resist referring to such programs as affirmative action, a phrase laden with negative connotations. Rather, elected representatives should laud efforts to increase campus diversity.
True Opportunity for All
Going to college and earning a degree doesn't ensure financial success in life, but it does open doors of opportunities for many. Those opportunities have been reserved for the privileged classes for far too long. As the goal of public educational institutions is to teach all students regardless of their parent's income level, continuing to allow schools taking tax money to recruit primarily from affluent areas represents the ultimate in hypocrisy.

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