Good education should be for anyone who wants it

Marnix Broer, CEO of StuDocu, discusses the growing inequality in education from primary school to higher education

“College isn’t for everyone” has been a common rhetoric detailing why parents shouldn’t force their children to pursue a higher education. However, it’s also shockingly fitting when applied to the growing inequality in education; as in, if you don’t have money, then it may not be for you. While no one is actually coming out and saying this, they might as well when you look at the cost of tuition in the US. The ​average student is graduating​ with over US$30,000 in debt for a monthly cost of US$393 post graduation

While this has been a discussion for far too long, it appears that things are actually getting worse, especially so with the COVID-19 crisis. With all the talk about diversity right now, why aren’t we also focusing on education?

The middle and lower class crunch

Economically, pretty much everyone is taking a financial hit, unless you’re a technology company or maybe a grocery store. However, no one will be worse off by the end of this crisis than the ​middle and lower class.​ Unfortunately, this is where we see the biggest gaps of inequality.

Money isn’t exactly a luxury that many students have the affordance to spend. Sometimes it can even be a bit painful to cough up the US$1.50 coffee at university. And this was still the case with many students back when they could keep working their jobs, the most common of which either being a ​host or a waiter​ at a restaurant. But many now haven’t had the chance to bring in the extra few dollars each month.

If you then calculate that there’s a high probability that their parents have been out of work as well, or some even laid off, it’s very likely that students are left with a big decision to make: “can I continue my education right now?” A question to which over ​50% of American students​ can’t confidently say “yes”.

A COVID-related income issue isn’t the only thing that has affected students; it’s also the reliance on university facilities. University closures mean that students can’t access WiFi if needs be and ​10% of households​ in the US still don’t have internet access. So, if they can’t purchase internet access or lack the proper technology, does that mean they shouldn’t study?

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Time to find solutions

Finding a fix for the inequality in education has undoubtedly played its part in how long the issue has been affecting the system. However, it begins and ends with the universities, who have all the tools capable to help almost every student with financial issues.

Decreasing tuition costs has been at the heart of the discussion, but it appears as if ​most universities​ aren’t interested in doing this despite their facilities being closed and students not having access to the resources they pay for. So, what other options can help?

This starts with those who have been on the favourable side of the squeeze of ​the middle class​: the wealthy. And, it’s not about taxing them; it’s about them stepping up and using their enormous bank accounts to ensure that the future leaders are well educated and well prepared. Some have already ​started donating funds​ to universities, but if the universities aren’t allocating these funds correctly, who does the money ego to?

One solution that could solve the problem is to have the donated funds used to finally ​create an income-based​ tuition programme, whereby the amount of tuition fees paid is determined by family income. That way, at least they could still feel comfort that if their financial struggles become serious, their education won’t have to suffer the full brunt of it.

But that still won’t solve some students’ reliance on the university’s technology if there’s a prolonged closure of facilities. Once again, universities should be looking to help all students succeed. The equipment that’s going unused could be loaned out to students in need. Internet access cards should be available to anyone who can’t access a connection. If the universities aren’t allowing students to use the tech they pay for, they could at least provide them to the students who need them the most.

If the recent protests have taught us anything, it’s that the world is tired of inequality and is pushing for diversity. With this change, it would be a real shame if education was left out of the picture.

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