At first glance, Tamara Draut’s article seems to state a fact that most individuals already know: it’s hard to get into college. Looking further into her claim, Draut reveals the struggles that low-income high school students applying to a four-year college or university face. Specifically, the article talks about enrollment gaps between class and race due to financial issues and the increase of high school students applying to colleges and universities across the nation.
Draut begins her article by explaining the different outcomes that occur from specific levels of education. First, she shows the lifetime economic gains that different degrees, ranging from high school to PhD, will make. Second, she explains the different “qualities of life” that each education level will face. Specifically, Draut explains that those who cannot get into a higher education program will not have the opportunity to have a higher paying job.
In order to understand the claims that Draut makes in her article, it is imperative that one knows about the history of college financial aid within the United States. To do this, Draut explains the origins of financial aid, starting with the GI Bill. The GI Bill was intended to provide war veterans with the opportunity to gain educational/social skills once they returned back to the U.S. and were acclimated with what “civilian life”. Next, there was the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA), which was based solely around the idea that college education should be accessible to any U.S. citizen. In a way, this was the precursor to today’s loan and scholarship system. The last specific grant system that Draut talks about are Pell Grants, which provide low-income students with aid in order to close the socioeconomic achievement gap facing the United States. Today, most federal aid is based off of merit in addition to financial need. Usually, these awards go to students who don’t necessarily need the aid in order to go to college. Students who come from a low-income household are less likely to receive these scholarships. This is a problem because the U.S. is shifting away from need-based aid and providing funding for merit. Thus, the financial aid system within the U.S. is starting to thin out- a scary idea considering tuition costs continue to rise. Draut provides a few different statistics about the cost of college:
- In 2003, the cost of going to a state school increased by 24%. Federal aid for students, however, has not increased at the same rating, which means that students who qualify for financial-aid will receive a reduced amount.
- Pell Grants used to cover 72% of college costs. Today, they only pay for 34%.
The later portion of Draut’s article talks about the issues that stem from the nation’s lack of financial aid. Since the loan/grant system has deteriorated, the social gap between Caucasian and “ethnic” students has increased. Over 570,000 students could not go to a public university solely because of financial reasons. This has caused the enrollment in community colleges to increase rapidly- 44% of all undergraduates go to a community college. Also, 40% of young adults surveyed said that they either had to delay their education or go to a less expensive school because of financial issues/student loans. There are more low-income students at community colleges than high-income students. While some community college students say that their enrollment is temporary and that they will eventually transfer to a state college or university, 60% of these students don’t actually follow through and will continue in community college. Also, it is more likely for an individual that is enrolled in a community college to not finish his or her degree when compared to a student that goes to a state college or university- this is due to the fact that most community college students have to hold one or more jobs to pay for necessities and tuition. Low-income students who attend a four-year college are more likely to drop out in comparison to their high-income peers. 40% of students from the highest socioeconomic quartile will graduate while only 6% from the lowest quartile will graduate. The struggle to get into and maintain an education at a four-year college or university causes a social-rift among socioeconomic classes instead of solely on race/ethnicity. If low-income students are able to make it through a four-year program at one of the nation’s most prestigious schools, they are more likely, according to statistical data, to have a higher wage premium in comparison to high-income students that graduate from the same academic institution.
In addition to the cost of college increasing, competition to get into an elite school has gone up significantly in the past few years. Often, high-income students fear that they won’t be able to get into a top-tier school and that their lives will suffer from this loss. These students believe that their peers will look at them with disgrace and not view them as a “winner”. Students that strive to get into an elite school will shell out a lot of money for college preparatory courses and tutoring services in order to gain a better chance of enrollment. These services can, according to Draut, range from $1,500 - $3,000. Also, students may pay for consultants that help create portfolios of information about the student and help highlight his or her qualities while minimizing any weak points. Also, these councilors help guide students through the entire process of writing a college admissions essay. High-cost services are out of the question for low-income students. Only 6% of all high school students use these services, leaving the other 94% at a disadvantage. Low income students, according to Draut, have little to no guidance through their high schools because counselors are have an average caseload of 500 students.
Businesses are increasing the education standards of their potential employees, leaving students with a community-college degree at a large disadvantage over other students. Draut explains that the bachelor degree is slowly become obsolete for managerial and higher level positions at firms across the nation. Instead, master’s degrees are becoming the standard of top-tier jobs in many different industries, such as social work, psychology, teaching, and even in the library field. One reason that companies are increasing their standards is that a higher level of education across all employees will result in a better occupational status in comparison to competing firms within the same occupation. Most master’s degrees are used in the professional field and not for theoretical/philosophical fields. Demand has drastically increased for graduate level degrees. Draut provides a statistic that shows that the amount of students earning graduate degrees increase 58% between 1986 and 1999. Individuals who are in debt are likely to not gain a graduate degree because of the cost and time. This means that individuals who financially struggled to get a bachelors degree are still behind students who came from financially stable families. Draut’s final claim within her article is that, in the future, the majority of America’s population will be undereducated and consist primarily of African Americans and Latinos.
Questions to think about:
Do students who complete a two-year program at a community college have a disadvantage in terms of adapting to/learning about new forms of computer-based technology in comparison to those who attend a four-year program at a state college or university?
Are there any specific cultural phenomenon, such religious philosophies or value systems, that promote the socioeconomic rift within the U.S. college education system?
Does computer technology create a barrier for low-income students in regards to gaining information about/applying to college?
As colleges move towards online-based applications, how will low-income individuals who do not own a home computer adapt ?