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College and the American Drea

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College and the American Dream
Jenny Golightly
Western Governors University

College and the American Dream
The term “American Dream” was first introduced by James Truslow Adams in his book “The Epic America”. He felt “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” (American Dream, 2014). For decades, people have lived by the promise that a strong work ethic, dedication, and honesty can lead to a better life. Unfortunately, today, many Americans find this is not the case. No longer does hard work guarantee that one can provide a comfortable lifestyle for their families, save for retirement, or afford to send their children to college. The dream of being able to send their children to college is fading for many Americans and is an example of societal inequality described in the conflict theory. Conflict theory does not view society as a system but as social groups experiencing unequal power, money, and unequal life chances. This leads to struggles and oppression for the lower classes while the upper class continues to prosper.
According to Phil Oliff, a policy analyst with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Higher education attainment is growing increasingly important. Getting a college degree is increasingly a prerequisite for success in the workforce and entry in the middle class” (Sherter, 2013). Statistics have shown that the level of education correlates with the level of earning and wealth over a lifetime (Odland, 2012). Despite the need for higher education to succeed, it seems that income is the determining factor in gaining access to higher education. In 2010, 55% of bachelor’s degrees were awarded to students from families earning over $98,000 annually, while only 9% went to families earning less than $33,000 a year (Fisher, 2012). Almost half of Harvard’s undergraduates are from families with incomes over $200,000 a year (McGrath, 2013). At the top 146 colleges, only 3% of students were from families in the bottom 25% income bracket (Marcus, 2013). Conflict theory emphasizes that the different social classes have access to different life experiences which adds to the inequality between classes. The large amount of students graduating from wealthy families clearly demonstrates this as they are the ones who have the needed life experience of going to college. When compared to other countries, the United States has one of the most expensive college systems in the world (Hau, 2008). In 2012, yearly college tuition ranged from $4,000 a year at a two year public institution to over $40,000 a year at a private four year college (Baum &Ma, 2013). Without financial aid, the average cost to attend a public four year college (including tuition, room and board, books, and cafeteria charges) for the 2012-2013 school year was $22,261. This is an increase of 3.8% from the previous year and is almost twice the national inflation rate of 2% (Clark, 2012). The cost of an average college tuition rose 15% from 2008 to 2010. “If the costs keep on rising, especially at a time when family incomes are hurting, college will become increasingly unaffordable for the middle class” says Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (Clark, 2012).
One reason for the continued increase in tuition is a decrease in state funding provided to colleges. States have cut the amount of money they are giving to colleges an average of 15.2% since 2007 (Malcolm & McMinn, 2013). With the exception of North Dakota and Wyoming, every other state is spending less per student than before the recession hit in 2008. Eleven states have cut funding by over one-third per student and two have cut spending by half (Oliff, Palacious, Johnson, 2013). Colleges attempt to off-set these deficits by cutting faculty, reducing classes, and increasing tuition. This leads to middle and low income families having to choose between taking out large student loans or not sending their students to college (Malcolm & McMinn, 2013). By the option to go to college completely eliminated for some students, they can almost ensure that they will not climb the social economic ladder during their lifetime and will live a life of oppression, which is another element of the conflict theory.
Colleges only seem to be adding to the inequality of access to a higher education. More colleges are giving financial aid to families that can pay the high tuition costs over giving larger amounts of aid to low income families to make college affordable. It appears that financial aid is going to students who don’t need it. Since 1995, only 43% of available financial aid went to families that demonstrated a financial need, whereas the amount of aid going to families who do not demonstrate a need doubled to 42% (Marcus, 2013). Families that earned at least $100,000 a year got an average of $10,200 of financial aid while students whose families earned less than $20,000 got an average of $8000 (Fisher, 2012). Another key element of the conflict theory is the competition between classes for limited resources – in this scenario financial aid is the limited resource. For most middle and lower students, they must obtain financial aid to make going to college a reality. Unfortunately, it seems that a majority of aid is going to students who do not need as much help paying for their education. It is clear that the possibility of upward mobility in society will be severely hampered without a college degree. America is experiencing the highest income inequality in decades. The income gap between the richest and the poorest Americans is the widest it has ever been since the 1920’s (Wiseman, 2013). This gap will only widen as the privilege to go to college becomes less obtainable. It is argued in the conflict theory that elimination of privilege will decrease conflict and improve the lives of all classes. However, this can’t be proven until colleges make it a priority to offer more financial assistance to the lower/middle class students and this may take years to see the social benefits of such a change.

ReferencesAmerican Dream. (2014). In Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 25, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=American_Dream&oldid=590556312Baum, S., & Ma, J. (2013, September). The College Board - College Admissions - Trends in College Pricing 2013. Retrieved February 20, 2014, from http://www.collegeboard.comClark, R. (2012, July 12). Arizona schools posted second of nation's biggest tuition increase. East Valley Tribune. Retrieved from http://Eastvalleytribune.comClark, K. (2012, October 24). Tuition at public colleges rises 4.8%. Retrieved February 2, 2104, from http://money.cnn.comFisher, D. (2012, May 2). Poor students are the real victims of college discrimination. Forbes. Retrieved from http://Forbes.comHau, S. (2008, January 21). World's most expensive universities. Forbes. Retrieved from http://forbes.comMalcolm, H., & McMinn, S. (2013, September 3). Sagging funding jacks up college tuition. USA Today. Retrieved from http://usatoday.comMarcus, J. (2013, October 9). Hechinger Report | New book charts why poor kids forgo top colleges. Retrieved February 19, 2014, from http://hechingerreport.orgMcGrath, M. (2013, November 17). The challenge of being poor at America's richest colleges. Forbes. Retrieved from http://Forbes.comOdland, S. (2012, March 24). College Costs Out of Control. Forbes.com. Retrieved February 20, 2014, from http://Forbes.comOliff, P., Palacios, V., & Johnson, I. (2013, March 19). Center on Budget and Policy Priorities - Recent deep state higher education cuts may harm students for years to come. Retrieved February 22, 2014, from http://www.cbpp.orgSherter, A. (2013, March 19). State funding cuts slam public colleges. Retrieved February 18, 2014, from http://cbsnews.com/moneywatchWisemen, P. (2013, September 10). Richest 1% earn biggest share since '20's. Bloomberg Business Week. Retrieved from http://buinessweek.com | |…...

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