In this current economic climate 7.9% of recent college graduates are finding themselves unemployed and saddled with debt, according to a Georgetown University Center on Education study. Those approaching their senior year in high school are asking themselves if attending a four-year traditional college is still worth the time and money. With parents out of work or underemployed the pressure is increasing to figure out how to cover rising tuition costs. This pressure has many opting to go straight to the workforce while others investigate alternatives such as community college.
My opinion is yes, college is still very much worth it, especially for minorities who are in the toddler-hood of education when compared to mainstream America. Meaning it wasn’t until the 60’s and 70’s that desegregation of schools allowed for equality of black students in the classroom, but that didn’t guarantee us a quality education. Generally speaking, the white population has had access to formal education since the founding of this country. That’s a 200+ year gap in our experiences. One could argue that inner-city schools are still struggling to reach the standard of formal education as their already meager resources continue to dwindle. You could say I’m biased. I attended a traditional college followed by graduate school at two very good Universities, one of which has been a pioneer in breaking down the barriers to quality education for women and minorities, the University of Michigan.
Let’s explore our current system. A report released in June of this year by the Council on Foreign Relations takes a look at the education system in the US compared to other developed countries. At a high level it shows the US is falling behind. Download the [download#1] from the report essentially comparing a cross section of Generation X and Y (ages 25-34) with the Baby Boomers (ages 55-64). When the Baby Boomers were in high school they were 1st in the world for educational attainment, now the US is 10th. While the education system in America is improving, it’s not doing so at the same rate as other developed nations. This is partially due to how our education system is funded and structured.
Other developed countries spend more money per student in low-income school districts than high-income school districts. This is flipped in the US. More resources go to the school districts with more resources. This difference is primarily because property taxes fund grade schools in the US. High income school districts don’t have to rely on federal funding. As the education system has evolved race has become less of a barrier to a quality education. Wealthy black students with strong academic performance are more likely to attend an elite institution than their white counterparts. Socioeconomic status has become the new “black” so to speak.
Inner city high school graduates are often encouraged to attend community college then transfer to a traditional university. Often these students don’t believe traditional college is an option. But community college is not always a better option. The completion rate is lower and it’s not necessarily cheaper. According to the National Center for Education statistics reported by Money magazine 80% of students who attend a community college intend to transfer to a four-year school, 30% of them actually do. Only 16% of community college students earn a degree within six years from the first school they attend versus 69% of four-year college students.
President Obama proposed $5 billion for community colleges as they have seen increased enrollment from black, hispanic and low-income students. If the US becomes a world leader in college degrees by 2020 a large part of this will be due to more students finishing these type of programs. However, the proposal was not approved in full. There has also been a rise in the availability of online schools such as the well-known University of Phoenix. Other high profile institutions such as Harvard, MIT and the University of California at Berkeley are offering Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) starting this year, 2013. THESE COURSES ARE OPEN TO ANYONE AND CHARGE NO FEE. What a great way to show an admissions committee you’re interested in your education by doing these classes in high school. Click here to see Harvard’s offering.
Why does an education matter?
- More education may lead to higher pay over a lifetime. In 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 30-34 year olds who had only a high school diploma earned $638 per week, and their peers with bachelor’s degrees earned $1,053 while those with advanced degrees earned $1,332.
- Impacts the economy as a whole. You’ve heard of shipping jobs overseas, but it works in the reverse. Companies that can’t find a certain skill set will issue work visas to foreign nationals to live and work in the US. This happens more and more in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields. Often these jobs are very high paying and there aren’t enough qualified candidates to fill them.
- Creates a society that can understand and participate in the running of this country. “No taxation without representation” was the battle cry that launched this country’s bid for freedom. In order to vote and make informed decisions about your life a society must have access to information and understand that information. This applies to buying a house and understanding the mortgage; this applies to choosing what foods you will eat. An education can improve every aspect of an individual’s life which in turns improves the circumstances for the society as a whole.
- It is your right. Education is not a privilege although for nearly 200+ years that was the experience of the black community in this country. You are guaranteed a right to a primary education (kindergarten through high school) and you will not be denied opportunities to expand beyond that. People fought and died for this Constitutional right.
If you’re considering going or not going to college, or maybe you’re thinking of returning to school there is every reason in the world to do so. If it’s a lack of money now, there are resources to help pay for school. Just look for them. I had Federal student loans, grants and fellowships. I understand not wanting to be saddled with student loan debt. There are grants and scholarships to help defray that cost. By the way, Harvard offers free tuition to admitted students from households earning less than $40,000 per year.
Don’t let fear hold you back. An education can change your life in ways you are not even aware and it is a crucial building block for black men and women to create wealth. An education is the pathway from your current circumstance to your better state of being. Living in a low income neighborhood is not an excuse. Others have the paved the way for you. There’s always a way.
Real Talk | Real Things | Real Results
- Council on Foreign Affairs. “Remedial Education: Federal Education Policy”
- “5 Myths to College Costs”. Money Magazine, September 2013.