DMI Blog

Maureen Lane

Education Gap? Try an Abyss

A recent New York Times discussion raises the economic challenges we face as a result of the higher education gap. A college degree is essential to thrive economically now - and into the future.

American education policy has not geared up for this challenge, as Americans live longer and the economy changes more quickly. More resources are needed to expand access to higher education in this changing economy.

Reports from the Education Trust show that fewer than nine percent of low-income students earn Bachelor's degrees by the age of 24, compared to 75 percent of higher income students. Recent news coverage points to stress and a lack of money as reasons why low-income and middle-class students do not earn their degrees.

Pell grants, the federal grants for higher education, have not kept up with rising college tuition, which has seen an increase of 35 percent since 2001. A family with two children making about $50,000 per year will not receive a full Pell grant. And even $4,000 in college tuition can be out of reach for some families who don't qualify. This leaves many young students to rely on loans, creating a heavy economic burden.

Low-income students in the top 20 percent of their classes can often get into top schools with scholarships. But a student in the middle of the class will need loans in the absence of a Pell grant.

Pell funding must be expanded and eligibility must be raised to capture more of the middle class.

Otherwise, low-income students and students whose families make just a little too much will be left behind.

The Welfare Rights Initiative has been working to guide low-income New York City public school students through the financial aid process, and money is their number one concern. Most of the talented young high school students we meet have gotten the message that they shouldn't even try to reach college. That is not a gap; it is the making of an abyss.

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Posted at 4:00 PM, Dec 16, 2009 in Economic Opportunity | Education | Welfare
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