by Benjamin Howell
01 May 2006
What is the American dream? It is the idea held by many in the United States that through hard work, courage, and determination one can achieve prosperity. This ideal has spread from American soil to nearly every country on the planet. Everyone wants a chance at a better life. Contrary to winning the lottery or some other chance happening to success, the majority of Americans go about seeking the American Dream through the pursuit of a college education. Unfortunately this dream is being challenged as “[t]he average yearly cost to attend a four-year institution is 71% of the annual income of a family in the bottom economic fifth of Americans” (Costs 2). The gap between a college graduate’s salary and one who does not pursue a higher education continues to widen. As universities across the United States continue to raise tuition costs, those who cannot afford education give up their dream, which results in a greater socio-economic divide between the rich and poor.
China is the greatest current example of a widening gap between the rich and poor. The fortunate few who have an opportunity to attend a university, upon graduation, snag the high-paying jobs as managers, while those who cannot afford a higher education end up doing the un-educated, labor-intensive jobs working for day-to-day life-sustaining wages. America seems to be drifting more and more toward polar extremes in nearly all aspects of existence. The middle class is dissolving as the cost of attending institutions of higher learning has increased 47% since 1993-94. Some worry that one result may be that many lower income citizens will be forced out of the opportunity of a college education. This contrasts sharply with the ideal Americans held after WWII that a secondary education was a tool which promoted equality between social classes and encouraged growth of the middle class. Prior to World War II higher education was viewed as an optional path the privileged could pursue. Today it is a requirement to be considered part of the middle class (Costs 2). In research gathered by Professor Randall of the University of Dayton, “The income of chief executive officers was 84 times that of employees in 1990, 140 times in 1995, and 416 times in 1999” (Randall 3).
The polarization between the rich and poor of this country are clear. Poverty is continuing to deteriorate the low-income sector of society, as the wealthy are becoming exorbitantly rich. A college degree has never been more important in the determination of social circumstance in this country. Nevertheless, this nation’s wealthiest and most prestigious colleges are not enrolling a vast amount of lower income students. American colleges have never before been called upon to take part in a more vital roll in educating a generation of students for a worldwide economy; however these wealthy schools are investing a far greater amount of money toward instruction in the classroom than their less privileged counterparts can. Both nonetheless, spend great amounts on campus amenities, like fitness centers and wireless internet, raising the expectations of both their student body and prospective students, while diverting funds away from teaching and financial aid (Selingo 1).
Tuition increases may also be a result of increases in financial aid. In other words some universities claim that it does not matter that tuition is increased because the costs will be offset by the financial aid offered. An economics Professor at Murray State University in Kentucky argued that, “Federal policy discriminates against institutions like his that have labored to keep costs low. (Murray State costs about $3400 per year for in-state students.) A poor high-school senior who chose, say, Duke (tuition: $29,350) over Murray State, would get more in federal grants and loans simply because Duke charges more” (Shea). Universities also claim to raise tuition costs based on the rate of inflation. This is utterly false, as the average rate of inflation for the United States from January 2000 to present has been an average of three percent (Inflation 1). Subsequently, the tuition increase for Arizona State University for fall of 2007, which happens to be one of the most competitively priced institutions of higher education, has recently been lowered from the proposed eight to a 6.5 percent increase. ASU, a school known for making it a priority to keep its costs low, speaks much in relation to the other universities across America. Although, they claim to be restricted to raising tuition costs due to the rate of inflation, clearly the numbers speak for themselves.
A final reason that universities give for increasing tuition costs, is a continuing decrease in state funding. This claim has validity. They have claimed that they are limited to raising tuition specifically to subsidize these lost revenues from the decreased amount of state funding. If this were true would there not be greater improvements in the quality of education as well as the new uniforms for the athletic department? The misappropriation of state funds towards other amenities over education is an unintelligent reason for raising the cost of tuition. If an individual wanted to use a gym, they could get a pass to Gold’s, not enroll at a university so they could make use of the campus fitness center. Local governments have not continued to increase the amount of money they give to their universities. One result is the universities are left on their own to come up with ways to make up for the gap between what they need to cover their own expenses and where the government funding has fallen short. This may be the only aspect of increased tuition costs that may be impacted by individual students. Students should be vocal and proactive in voicing the importance of education and its roll in both enlightening society, and helping them obtain the American Dream.
The bottom line is that Universities are raising tuition. It seems that, like gas prices, they will continue to go up, and there is very little anyone can do about it. Society as a whole must come to recognize that to continue in advancement and prosperity; education must be encouraged and not left to stagnate. If it is left out to rot, society will follow. The gap between the rich and poor will continue to grow. Eventually the result may be violence, as the poor, tired of living in rags, lash out at their neighbors living an opulent American dream. The beginning of this pessimistic foresight of violence between the wealthy and impoverished is currently being played out in the Middle East. As previously mentioned the average salary of a Chief Executive Officer was eighty-four times the amount the average employee made in 1990. This salary gap has grown to 416 times the average employee in 1999. If this is disturbing to think about, consider that the average employee is still making enough to feed their family and live out their version of the American Dream. What about those who may never have the prospect of obtaining the American Dream, simply because they never had the opportunity of gaining an education, due solely to the fact that they could not afford it?