Friday, April 21, 2006

Education for ALL

I've been hearing about free tuition to all of these Ivy League and other prestigious schools for a while now.

  • Stanford offers free tuition to families making under $45,000 and those in the $45,000-$60,000 range will have their expected contribution cut in half.
  • Harvard has now made their free tuition available to families making under $60,000
  • Northwestern University (NU) is exploring different options to help families afford the tuition so students won't have to choose a community college over NU just because they can't afford it
  • University of North Carolina (UNC) gives free tuition to those up to 200% of the poverty level
  • University of Pennsylvania (U Penn) gives grants to those who make under $50,000

All of that is wonderful.

However, several factors in those offers really disturb me.

Students must be qualified. Every time I receive information about a new school doing this, I always pass it on to the teenagers I know. However, what I also know is that not one of the teenagers I know would qualify for these opportunities. The schools they attend haven't adequately prepared them.

I pass the information along to encourage the teenagers to work harder, knowing that there are financial options available. I want them to have hope. Unfortunately, though, several teens I know already have high ambitions. When I ask where they are going to college, everyone says, "UT!" Although I don't want to discourage their hopes, I recognize that making B's and C's at an inner-city school is far from what it takes to get into a competitive university like UT or any of the ones I mentioned above.

UNC offers free tuition to up to 200% of the poverty level. What kind of country are we that 200% of the poverty level is still poor???? What does that mean when we say that people making up to 200% above the poverty level still can't afford tuition?! What does that say about our outdated poverty guidelines?! And what are we (meaning you and I!) going to do about waking our nation up to the fact that minimum wage, poverty guidelines as they are now, and many other factors that affect the poor are outdated!

Universities are the ones taking up the slack. I think it's great that prestigious universities are taking up the slack for what the government continues to cut. However, first of all, not all universities can handle that kind of financial hit. NU recognizes that. They also recognize that many low-income students are not academically prepared. Those are the reasons why they have no firm commitments to paying tuition or enrolling low-income students right now. They are still trying to figure out a plan so that it will benefit low-income students--even those who aren't quite ready for ivy league rigor.

Second, why are the universities picking up the slack for something the government has done (and, in my opinion, should still be doing) in the past? If you'll notice, some of the more "common" schools that our kids would be more likely to attend are not on the list. Only the schools that have a lot of access to money...I would guess former alums who have money.

Aren't we a country that touts free education for all? Is that really true? Every year as I try to get teenagers enrolled in colleges, they all seem to need some kind of loan package because their financial aid doesn't cover their total expenses. Some of them have a hard time getting the loans because of their low-incomes combined with their parents' bad credit and things like that. Others are just scared to take out loans because they realize what financial burdens their families are already in and they have no desire to make financial burdens for themselves. What can we do to ensure that ALL students are allowed access to a post-secondary education if they so desire? I'm not talking individual generosity either. Though individual generosity is nice and kind and very much needed, it will never reach ALL students. There are too many other students not connected with generous individuals or non-profit organizations who may pay for someone's college education.

So, what are we going to do? How are we going to ensure that ALL children have access? That ALL children have opportunity? ...NOT just those who happened to be born into good schools and high incomes.

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