The Income Divide in College Admission
It is a well-known fact that children from affluent families tend to do better in school. Yet the income divide has received far less attention from policy makers and government officials than gaps in student accomplishment by race. The election of a black president proved, as nothing else could have, that racism exists, but is no longer a serious problem in the United States. Nothing magically changed when Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. We have proven, as a country, that race is no longer an insurmountable obstacle anymore. The one huge division that exists within our society that we need to face head-on is the marked difference in educational opportunities between different socioeconomic groups in the US. We can further narrow educational inequalities by understanding that these inequalities exist
Doing well in high school isn’t enough to get to the next level, college. Affirmative action is all but dead in United States universities. Lost in the debate of affirmative action is a simple fact, income not race, is a real determining factor in higher education today. Millions of kids are not attending college. Not because they are unqualified, but because they simply cannot afford it. Families that earn in the top 25% of income in the United States send 80% of their children to college. Of the bottom 25% of income earners in the US less than 10% of the children go to college. Family income is the new predictor of a child’s future achievement. Education should be the great equalizer in American society. Education can lift less advantaged children and improve their chances for lifetime success as adults. The achievement gap between rich and poor is the new racism in the United States.
Why are children from privileged backgrounds more successful in school? Why do these advantages persist over time? These are complex moral dilemmas. Over time, cultural and social differences combine to preserve privilege across many generations. Poor children are twice as likely to repeat a grade, to be suspended, expelled or drop out of high school. Children living underneath the poverty line are almost twice as likely to be placed in special education classes. Unequal school financing across school districts is also unfair. The state of New York spent $19,076 per pupil in 2011. The state of Idaho spent only $6,823 per pupil in that same year. In 2011 67.6% of New York high school seniors planned on attending college after graduation, only 31.1% of seniors in Idaho had made the same plans.
There are major advantages for students from families with more economic resources. Wealthy parents can invest more time and money in weekend sports, ballet, music lessons, math tutors and weekend SAT prep classes. As kids get older parents try to position their children for the best colleges, which is even more essential for success in today’s economy.
What can we do to even the playing field? I believe we need to scrap our entire system and rethink education from the bottom up. I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel. Why don’t we just copy the most successful highly educated industrial country in the world and do exactly what they do? Finland seems to be doing everything right. In the United States the bottom third of students become teachers, in Finland only one in eight applicants will receive a coveted teaching position in any school. Children learn because they are passionate about the process of learning. The children in Finland never have to worry about getting into college or how they will pay for it because there are no high-stakes tests and it costs nothing to get in. From personal experience I can tell you that the only reason I don’t take AP computer science and Japanese at my high school is because I know I probably won’t get an A. In Finland I would take both and more because I don’t have to worry about my GPA getting me into a good school. I would actually have more to offer a university if I didn’t worry so much about my grades. It’s an odd circle grades and college; you can’t get into the college with anything other than flawless grades yet you skip over incredibly important classes simply because you don’t want your GPA to suffer. There is virtually no poverty in Finland. The unemployment rate is statistically zero. The standard of living is high. Average 15-year-olds in Finland are among the happiest people on the planet according to a USA Today poll. All of this and they spend less per-pupil on education through college then the average US state.
“. . . The richest nation on Earth has never allocated enough resources to build sufficient schools, to compensate adequately its teachers, and to surround them with the prestige our work justifies. We squander funds on highways, on the frenetic pursuit of recreation, on the overabundance of overkill armament, but we pauperize education.” From a speech given by Martin Luther King on March 14, 1964, when he accepted the John Dewey Award from the United Federation of Teachers.