Barriers to Higher Education
Students from low income and poor families are far less likely to get a college education than those from middle and upper income families. Fewer than 9% of low-income students earn bachelor's degrees by the age of 24, compared with 75% of higher income students who earn a degree by the same age. This has to change, as higher education is an important aspect of human development, economic growth, and equality, and is crucial to our society’s dynamic needs.
Last week the Center on Equality, Pluralism and Policy at Baruch College School of Public Affairs hosted a conference called Lack of Access: Barriers to Higher Education. The conference was a helpful start to a much longer and larger discussion. A discussion that, needs to include policy-makers and people on the ground.
Opening speakers were President Kathleen Waldron (Baruch College), Martha Lamkin (Lumina Foundation) and Kati Haycock (The Education Trust -ET) . They gave some background to discuss the structural, financial, racial and political barriers to higher education.
Lamkin led with the mission of her foundation: Funding solutions to lack of access to higher education. Lumina’s research showed that income gap is the main barrier. Her foundation has many projects throughout the country -- such as KnowHow2Go -- to fund programs to support low-income high schoolers to prepare and enter college.
Haycock addressed the issue of college retention. Education Trust has a report that surfaces inequities in our present system that hinder the entry and retention of low income students. As their website explains, “In an unprecedented study of financial aid practices at these institutions, the report illustrates how flagship[colleges] have reallocated financial aid resources away from the low-income students who need help to go to college – mostly to compete for high-income students that would enroll in college regardless of the amount of aid they receive.”
President Waldron also spoke about declining retention. Baruch is a premier college at the City University of New York and yet their retention is falling. Waldron offered the correlation in falling retention and the rise in internship hours as a reason. Within the last decade, internships, which students need for work experience and to earn their degrees, have increased from 10 to 20 hours per week.
We have written extensively about the financial aid shift and ensuing scandals. Moreover, the fact that Baruch students are hard pressed to do 20 hours of internships, let alone the 35 hours of authorized work activities that students receiving welfare are required to do under welfare reform, is not news to our readers.
There are some simple solutions that can be easily accomplished right away in New York and other places and then there are others that will take planning and work over time. Recognizing that the population of poor and low-income adults and high school age students are susceptible to economic conditions that could bring them to public assistance at any time is a key feature of one of Lumina's reports and a key reality in people’s lives.
There are 73 million children in the United States and 56% of them live in low-income and poor families. Barrier's solutions need to include changing the policies and systems that do not work, because after all it is a political process. Education, welfare and economic policies are at the heart of government’s role. We need them to join in the fight for education access now.