A spectre is haunting higher education – the spectre of social stratification. Education remains the primary means of social mobility and decreasing economic inequality in our nation. In order to effectively deal with the issue of economic inequality, institutions of higher learning will need to leverage their resources and influence to make real and positive change. Expanding access is one of the most important issues facing higher education today. It is critical that students from traditionally underserved and underrepresented populations are not only able to attend our nation’s colleges and universities, but that they are able to successfully matriculate and graduate with minimal financial debt. It is incumbent upon colleges and universities to create policies and infrastructure that not only welcomes diversity in all forms, but provides support and a nurturing environment. If they choose to not act, the problem will persist and create more and more societal inequality. Some institutions may ask, “What can institutions do to ensure increased access to higher education for all students regardless of their race or socioeconomic status?” There are a number of things they can do, but for the sake of brevity, I propose the following:
Increased institutional support for programs such as Posse and Questbridge, which specifically target high-achieving students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
Expansion of articulation agreements between community colleges and 4-year institutions.
Expansion of dual enrollment programs with local area high schools.
Financial aid and scholarships for lower-income students to attend pre-college programs.
Intentional institutional outreach to schools and areas in less affluent areas.
This is certainly not a comprehensive list, nor do I believe it will cure all of the ills that currently plague higher education. It will, however, in my estimation, go a long way towards improving access to college for students from all backgrounds. Anthony P. Carnevale, Director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and Workforce describes higher education as a “powerful force for reinforcing advantage and passing it on through generations.” For the sake of the current generation and subsequent generations of students, it is imperative that we put an end to this pattern once and for all.