who has access to higher ed? Do americans know?

A major and common explanation of the Tea Party movement is that the people attracted to it feel  cheated and deprived.  They have been good citizens, things should work for them, but things seem instead to be working against them.  “Things” is very vague, but we can suppose it to stand in for lots of the things that are supposed to be part of an American right (even if only white Americans, or white male Americans, really thought they had these rights).  One such right might be the right to a job that pays one enough to support a family.  One of the MSNBC commentators said that there are now 6 people for every one available job, however low paying, so one can understand a sense of grievance, if the figures are correct. 

Another thing that is now said to be important is a college degree.  Is the situation comparable with the employment?  That is, are tea-party people as entitled to feeling aggrieved here too?

Unfortunately, it looks as though they may wrongly think they are.  Given how they vote, and the impact they have, this is extremely unfortunate. 

Here’s the data, all from the Chronicle of Higher Ed report on a recent  paper, to which they provided no link:

When it came to perceptions of disadvantage among students qualified to go to college, the largest share of survey respondents, about 43 percent, said students from low-income families have less opportunity than others to attend college. Minority and middle-class students were described as having less opportunity by nearly identical shares of respondents, about 27 percent.

Nearly a fourth of respondents said qualified students who are racial and ethnic minorities have more opportunity to attend college than others. Just under a fifth said students from low-income families have an advantage over others, and about a 10th said qualified students from middle-class families are better off than others when it comes to college access.

The figures here do not distinguish between men and women; taken alone, women had a more negative view:

Women were significantly less likely than men to believe that the opportunity to attend college is available for most qualified students, and the gender gap remained in place after taking into account respondent characteristics such as income and education level.

The authors of the paper said they believe – though their statistics do not address this – that there’s a “reverse discrimination effect” behind the figures.  That is, recent discussions about affirmative action have led to the perception of minority advantages.  It’s unclear just what they are referring to, but the comments of, e.g., Rush Limbaugh, on affirmative action are certainly very often wrong.  For example, he takes Barack and Michelle Obama to have each cheated better deserving whites of places at their colleges.  For another example of a commentator spreading error about access to higher education, see Jender’s recent post here.

The paper was based on massive data crunching on a 2007 survey.  The Chronicle does link to their report on the survey.  What is revealed explains, one could fear, a lot of the problems public colleges and universities are now facing:

 More than half of the survey’s respondents said they viewed colleges as businesses that mainly care about the bottom line, and nearly half said their state systems of higher education needed to be fundamentally reformed. More than two in five of those surveyed said that waste and mismanagement were major factors in the rising price of college.


2 thoughts on “who has access to higher ed? Do americans know?

  1. To put another spin/perspective on the “reverse discrimination” angle…I know quite a few people from my undergraduate days who believe that college education is most accessible to the “top” and the “bottom”, but not the “middle” (with these terms referring to family income). The folks I know who say these things are overwhelmingly white and are from families who are toward the bottom end of the middle-class. When they say things like this, they usually cite FAFSA funding formulas, which they claim discriminate against people who earn enough to be middle-class and thus be ineligible for Pell Grants, but not enough to actually afford college, thus taking out loans.

    I’m not ready to defend this view, but just to note that it’s out there, and that not everyone who takes the “reverse discrimination” line would want to claim that it’s always easier for low income earners or minorities.

  2. Matt, thanks for the comment (and those on the TSA). I’m wondering how to situate it. I think the Chronicle has a further article on the falsity of the claims; the actual figures don’t bear about the conclusion. It might still be true that it is harder for your friends in the sense that the sacrifice is really great. ProfbigK has commented a number of times here about her persistent $50K debt, and with a number of universities hitting $50K a year, the debt could be just awful.

    I don’t have time right now to look for that Chron article…

    I suppose one could say that doesn’t mean access is less, but it might well lead to one feeling access is less.

    BTW, with one child we could cope with the fact that there was no financial aid for those in our income bracket, but it took a huge amount of money in a way that seemed rather like being taxed. Hmmmm.

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