It looks as though the American middle class will be getting a break from more than just the government, thanks to recent Senate inquiries. Reacting to pressure from the Senate Finance Committee to disclose important financial information, in particular the use the endowment funds, institutions of higher education with endowments over $1 billion have begun offering more extensive financial aid programs for its students. Of the 136 universities asked for details on the allotment of their endowment funds, particularly as tuition and dean salaries skyrocket annually, the Ivy League has been the loudest to respond, with schools like Dartmouth guaranteeing 100% financial aid (tuition, room, board, and books) to its neediest applicants. Harvard and Yale have followed suit, offering more financial aid to students from middle-income families (loosely defined as families earning between $60,000 and $200,000 a year). Some wonder, however, if this will truly help the financial aid crisis within institutions of higher learning, myself included.
Though the aid offered is amazing and would surely benefit the students who reach the pearly gates of a 4-year college or university, I wonder what is being done to help those for whom college is nowhere in sight. Considering the less-than stellar state of American primary and secondary education, it's no wonder so many of the wealthier, well-established schools can offer such aid packages: lower income students aren't getting there in the first place.
Students from families in lower income brackets are more likely to go to public schools, many times in neighborhoods of a lower tax bracket, meaning substandard educational resources. Not to mention, poor students do not have access to or the financial means to acquire SAT/ACT tutors or to enroll in college preparatory classes, and often lack important curricular and extra-curricular programs in their schools that would make their college applications stronger (i.e. foreign language instruction, AP classes (and thus AP credit), music or art programs). In addition, external stresses such as hunger, inadequate healthcare, violence, sexual harassment, and lack of familial support inevitably affect lower income students as they attempt to pursue an education, and those factors cannot be ignored, particularly as one surveys their respective academic performance.
Until the government commits conduct an extensive overhaul of public education in this country, promising students in less-than-forgiving environments will have limited opportunities to "get out," meaning that no matter how much money universities throw at students of lower income brackets, attendance is still beyond their reach.
- Wendi Muse