Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Look at College by Social Class

Education ought to be a basic human right. It nurtures minds in a way that encourages healthy decisions, earns money to meet personal and (when applicable) family needs, promotes innovation, prevents violent crime and propels humanity ever forward. Unfortunately, serious systemic issues preclude many otherwise eager, bright and hard-working individuals from pursuing the college degrees required to land the best-paying jobs. Economic class — probably more than any other factor — holds a heavy influence over higher education acceptance and performance.

How It All Begins

  • The issue originates long before applications hit the mailbox — all the way back to kindergarten, even. It’s a well-documented phenomenon that teachers often move from more economically deprived areas to wealthier ones. Seeing as how 17.5% of American children live in poverty, that means a significant chunk of future generations receive their education from either novice or outright underqualified professionals.
  • And this unfortunate discrepancy impacts certain racial demographics as well. In 2008, the African-American unemployment rate sat at a tragic 15.1%, and the employed saw their pay drop by 2.9%.
  • Majority black schools suffer most than any others when it comes to staffing classrooms with the brand new, untested and even unqualified. In fact, 25% of math, 13% of English and roughly 4% of science teachers at schools with an African-American population of 50% or more do not hold degrees in the fields assigned.

High School’s Impact

  • As a result of these gulfs, once it comes time for impoverished and/or minority students to sit down for the requisite standardized tests, this history of cultural, ethnic and economic marginalization ends up negatively impacting scores. Lower scores mean a lowered chance of entering the desired college — even though SATs and ACTs are by no means an accurate method of measuring intelligence, aptitude, creativity or promise.
  • Although most required exams do offer waivers for economically deprived families, those past the cutoff might still find the price tag ($49 for domestic, $78 for international and $99 for Indian and Pakistani students) a serious bank account blow — especially if they have to pay for other tests and/or other college-bound kids.
  • High school education (if not the grades before) obviously impacts one’s ability to flounder or float at college’s onset, in addition to acceptance. Only 29% of 8th grade high math performers eventually attain a bachelor’s degree, but the number plummets to 8% of middle and 3% of low.

Paying for College: Before and After Graduation

  • Forty-nine percent of these stellar performers phase straight from high school to college, while the rest must spend years working to eventually fund their degrees. Even the most intelligent, promising students perfectly capable of passing struggle against paying for higher education — a factor which probably contributes more to these unfortunate statistics than anything else, particularly when one must balance work and school.
  • Despite considerable promise, only 3% of low-SES high schoolers end up at one of the 146 best colleges and universities in the United States. Organizations such as QuestBridge exist to bridge the gaps between the highly intelligent underprivileged and elite higher education institutions. Thus far, at least 6,000 individuals have benefited from their scholarships and prep classes.
  • As of the 2007-7008 school year, 65.6% of undergraduates received some financial aid, with 38.5% requiring loans. Considering college graduate wages dropped in 2010 — $21.77 for men, $18.43 for women — the up-and-coming generation of workers will grapple even more with paying them off after finishing school.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that, as of September 2011, 4.2% of college graduates qualify as unemployed, which means over a thousand former students are not able to pay their mounting debts or minimum living standards.

Issues Beyond Finances

  • For kids from economically deprived households, pursuing higher education might not prove worthwhile these days. But even during prosperous times, they face down discrimination. A 2009 University of Nebraska-Lincoln study discovered that low-income students typically suffer from poorer mental and physical health and rude peer commentary more than any other demographic.
  • If they happen to be first-generation, graduating within four years proves more challenging than amongst any other demographic — 51% less likely than their peers from higher SES positions, in fact.
  • Students from economically deprived backgrounds do not attend graduate school at the same rate, either, and attrition rates for those who pursue doctoral courses are estimated to run as high as 50%. However, definitive statistics on the subject have yet to emerge.
  • Only 15% of medical students hail from impoverished households to begin with, but 2.1% drop out within the first two years — no matter their MCAT results. Those scoring 27 or lower experienced an attrition rate of 2.9%, whereas their counterparts with a 28 or higher sat at around 1.6%.

When combined, these statistics result in a decidedly less-than-ideal — if not outright hostile — college climate. Classism, be it institutional, interpersonal or citational (or even unintentional), denies so many smart, talented and promising young adults the educational opportunities necessary to get ahead. And because it permeates every societal facet, major overhauls beyond the scholastic sector need implementing before such an ill can be permanently eradicated.

Taken From Best Colleges Online

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