Sunday, March 2, 2014
College As The Great Unleveler Since 1980
This article describes changes in the financing of college education since 1980. Prior to 1980, the GI Bill, following WW ll, and the low cost of public colleges provided opportunities that were affordable for most Americans. Two things have changed as a result of public policies since 1980: Public colleges, which enroll 75% of Americans, have become less affordable for all income groups. The effect has been most dramatic for low income families. The percent of family income required to fund an education at public colleges, has risen from 41% to 114% for families in the bottom income quintile. We have also seen the rise of for-profit colleges that target poor families with promises of entry to high paying jobs. The five largest for-profit colleges enroll 950,000 students primarily from low income families. Over 80% of the revenues to those colleges come from government supported loans and other assistance. In essence, they are government funded for-profit institutions that are not held accountable by the government that funds them. Higher education in America, which used to provide an affordable education for all Americans, has moved from being the great leveler in our society, to a new role which reinforces inequality of opportunity. This has not been accidental. It is the result of changes in government policies which have been influenced by changes in our political system that began in 1980.