High and Low Incomes - Widening Graduation Gap
February 11, 2015 typesofaid.com Staff
The massive American income gap has always led to different standards of living for high and low income citizens. According to UC-Berkeley professor Emmanuel Saez, the American income gap has been on the rise since the 1970s and is now at levels not since 1928, a time preceding the Great Depression (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/12/05/u-s-income-inequality-on-rise-for-decades-is-now-highest-since-1928/). Education is meant to be the great equalizer, making a higher standard of living equally attainable for the rich and poor.
A higher standard of living stemming from a well paying job, however, has recently required the attainment of a degree. The importance of receiving it is highlighted by the fact that employees with a high school education only earn about 62% of what their degree holding peers make (http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/02/11/study-income-gap-between-young-college-and-high-school-grads-widens).
The rate at which students coming from a higher income bracket earn degrees has been increasing since 1970 (along with the income gap). According to a report from the University of Pennsylvania, 77% of higher-income students earned their bachelor’s degree compared to only 9% of people from the lowest income families (http://finance.yahoo.com/news/big-gap-college-graduation-rates-005300210.html).
A significant finding of the study is that a higher number of lower income students are enrolling in college than they did in 1970, but are failing to receive their degree. Academic challenges and financial issues are the main challenges these students face once they have enrolled in college. Falling in a lower income bracket typically places the student in a lower income neighborhood and k-12 schools which lack funding and resources. Because of this, these students are less prepared to handle the college workload. Additionally, college tuition prices have skyrocketed in the past 30 years, placing a much heavier burden on students attempting to receive a degree. Though financial assistance is available from the state and federal government, these programs do not fully cover all expenses. Since 1974, the amount of tuition covered by Pell grants and scholarships has significantly decreased. In 1974, the maximum amount a student could receive from Federal Pell Grants took care of more than 50% of college costs. In 2012, that number has drastically fallen to only 27% of expenses (http://finance.yahoo.com/news/big-gap-college-graduation-rates-005300210.html).
The parallels between the widening income gap, declining rate of lower income students receiving a degree, and declining financial assistance cannot be ignored. Education is no longer equally available, and thus it is no longer the equalizer that can allow us to live the American Dream.
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