Is Higher Education Actually Increasing Inequality?

On the heels of a pretty terrible deal in Congress to keep student loan interest rates low for a year (and removing the grace period for repayment and screwing grad students entirely), it's a question worth asking: has higher education gone from a way to equalize society to an engine for inequality, separating the wealthy from the rest of us more and more? 

The Chronicle of Higher Education asked that question of several researchers, thinkers and writers and published their responses. 

They're all worth reading, but here's a few teasers. Laura Hamilton and Elizabeth Armstrong write:

Declining state support and rising tuition do more than reduce access to public higher education for many low-income students. The trends also lure colleges into catering to the social and educational needs of affluent,  full-freight students at the expense of others.  In doing so, they create a social atmosphere that has a profound effect on mobility.

According to William Julius Wilson

Whereas tuition at public and private universities averaged, respectively, 4 percent and 20 percent of annual median family income from the 1950s to 1970s, by 2005 the comparable figures had surged to 10 percent and 45 percent of median family income.

And in a piece titled "Growing Elitism", Thomas J. Espenshade remarks:

When one considers the positive economic rate of return of a college education—and especially of a degree from a name-brand institution—it is easy to see how selective private higher education confers, concentrates, and consolidates privilege for students who have grown up in well-to-do circumstances.
AlterNet / By Sarah Jaffe

Posted at July 2, 2012, 10:45am

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