Higher Education and Class Inequality

Higher education has often been seen as “the great equalizer” in the pursuit of the American Dream; though many will admit that the U.S. is a society that has disenfranchised working-class people and BIPOC, they argue that college is the way to “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” and remedy these inequities. Despite that fact, success rates for students of color remain low across the United States at most institutions of higher education and many students still drop out of college due to many factors, including lack of preparation, the cost of tuition, and the feeling that college is not providing what they really want—job preparation. Students of color are increasingly choosing HBCUs (Links to an external site.) (historically Black colleges and universities) because they feel they are more likely to graduate and will be in a racism-free learning environment.

Some higher education critics today identify many reasons why, ironically, our institutions of higher education are failing to educate. For one, these critics disagree on the definition of “failure.” While some see the disenfranchisement of working class and BIPOC students as failure, others measure failure on the basis of graduates’ base knowledge and performance in the working world. Many see today’s college graduates as less-qualified and less-informed that their peers in the past. Still others site low graduation rates, low course success rates, high levels of student debt and increasing tuition costs as signs of failure. The increasing commodification of education is seen as the catalyst for the growing disintegration of respect for educated expertise and the growing devaluation of a college education. And yet, young adults and returning students are still flocking to college. Young people are told by parents that they must get a college degree to have a good life. The pressure to attend and graduate from college is intense. The competition to get into or transfer into four-year universities is increasingly stressful for applicants.

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