The Cost of Education
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Since the 2023 college admissions results came out, my TikTok has been flooded with college acceptance, rejection, and high school statistics videos. While the videos are mainly filled with tears of joy and pride from families, I’ve also seen videos of people having to turn down their dream schools due to a lack of financial aid. The one aspect of college that most families and students always stress over is the cost. While it’s known that the cost of attending college is rising, the impact of wealth on education stems all the way back to elementary school.
Education is meant to be an equal playing field for everyone, regardless of wealth, social status, or family legacy, to succeed. However, with rising inflation and fierce competition to attend top universities, the cost of quality education is rising. Teachers remain underpaid, the cost to expand programs and administrative staff is high, and states are experiencing funding cuts. Schools are struggling to funnel more money into maintaining facilities, quality instruction, and academic support, which increases costs and widens the gap between low-income and affluent students. We are told that success in academics is earned through hard work and dedication. In reality, however, whether or not children can access quality education is becoming more dependent on wealth.
Georgetown University’s Center on Education reported that disparities between children can be seen as early as kindergarten. In the report, only one quarter of children with the lowest socioeconomic status (SES) scored above the median math score, while 74 percent of those with the highest SES scored above the median score. Since children from low-income families struggle to get tutoring resources or are occupied with taking care of their families, the rift between students with high socioeconomic status and low socioeconomic status only increases.
Wealth inequality is also reflected in New York high school dropout rates. While schools have decreased high school dropout rates to 5.8 percent in 2020, low-income students are still over 10 times more likely to drop out of high school than high-income students due to academic difficulties or the need to aid their families in tasks such as taking care of their siblings or working a job during the day. Students drop out of school to help their families, but in doing so, they are unable to improve their circumstances through quality education.
For the students who make it through the arduous high school years, money, once again, poses a challenge to many students who get accepted into their dream universities. Colleges have been raising their tuitions to combat inflation and the reduction of government aid. Various universities, such as Boston University, raised their cost by over four percent. Due to the increasing costs of college, the undergraduate enrollment rate has dropped from 2019 to 2022, and 82 percent of families said that financial aid was “extremely necessary” in order to afford college.
The impact of wealth in education tells students that it is better to be wealthy than smart, discouraging low-income students from pursuing higher education. Only 60 percent of lowest-SES students actually perceive themselves as likely to attend college compared to the 91 percent on the other end of the spectrum because money plays too much of a role in education. Students need money to access academic opportunities, like tutoring and afterschool programs, and schools also tend to promote careers that make money over cultivating passions and creativity. Students who are unable to afford these resources ultimately face a disadvantage that affects them throughout their academic careers.
Stuyvesant students are fortunate to attend a school with easily accessible resources. Programs such as the Writing Center, ARISTA, and AIS tutoring, are set to support students who are struggling academically. Stuyvesant has a plethora of resources, like the Alumni Association and clubs, that enable students to gain mentoring, find their passions, and succeed in class. Stuyvesant also has a near-perfect graduation rate and proficiency scores substantially higher than the rest of the state. Stuyvesant students are just a few of the millions of students in New York City alone attending schools with high graduation rates and high math and literacy scores.
However, factors such as tuition and legacy cause disparities between high- and low-income students in schools regardless of prestige. Colleges give preference to students with a family legacy, which benefits higher-income students, and students of wealthy alumni, who donate money to distinguished universities, are 45 percent more likely to be accepted into a selective college. Stuyvesant students with more connections with professionals, like doctors, scientists, and professors, have opportunities to improve their chances at college admissions. Students from lower-income families don’t have the luxury of paying for expensive summer programs and have to worry about tuition and scholarships when applying for college. Though the effect at Stuyvesant may not be as obvious, the impact of economic status still favors the wealthy.
Students should work toward providing tutoring to communities outside of Stuyvesant and offer free tutoring to low-income students in middle and elementary schools. Additionally, there needs to be an increase in easily accessible financial aid opportunities for low-income students, as many students don’t receive enough financial aid to attend their dream colleges. While there has been an increase in merit-based scholarships, these favor students who have the money to pay for additional academic resources. Governments need to funnel resources to low-income students and focus on need-based scholarships. To provide more students with higher education, the financial aid system should meet the demands of students. Increased grants that focus on need and merit, and using increased student aid as an incentive, such as providing students who complete their first year with more aid their second year, can help students attend college. State governments need to recognize the importance of funding education, grants, and scholarship programs in order to support all students.
Education is an opportunity for anyone to turn their lives around, achieve their goals, and strive for their dreams with the help of knowledge, social skills, and connections. Instead, academic success is influenced by the income a student's family has, and that needs to change. Quality education is for everyone, not just those who can afford it.