The US education gap between the haves and have nots is only getting worse

It’s no secret that in this economy the well off, or “haves”, have done very well at the expense of everyone else. We see it in the record-high stock market, the expiration of extra US jobless benefits and the higher death rates among black people from Covid-19, to name just a few examples. The return to schools will drive these inequities further apart, with long-lasting economic effects.

The haves get the bulk of the attention. Harvard University made news when it decided to make classes largely online, and again when many freshman deferred enrolment. With its immense endowment, Harvard will be fine. So, too, will the school’s typical student, who comes from a household with an income that is three times the national median. Privilege for the privileged.

The “have nots” are the ones we need to worry about. Among the 19.7-million undergraduates who were expected to enrol this year, less than 0.5% would have attended an Ivy League school, while millions would have gone to college part-time and to two-year institutions. Moreover, when the have nots attend college, they get less out of it than the haves.

Individuals who drop out of college are half as likely as those who complete a bachelor’s degree to say that the benefits exceeded the costs. It is even worse for those who attend private for-profit colleges, are the first in their families to go to college, or are people of colour.

The Covid-19 pandemic will exacerbate the disparities in educational outcomes, much as the Great Recession did. In 2008, attendance shot up at private for-profit colleges, and total student loan debt climbed, reaching $1.7-trillion this year. Delinquencies rose, too, especially among low-income students. The adverse effects were wide ranging and long lasting, with many young adults held back from starting families and buying homes. A repeat in 2020 will hold the next generation back.

Education remains the main path for the less privileged to attain advancement and financial security. Juan Salgado, chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago, spoke at a US Federal Reserve conference in 2019 on ways to strengthen the pathway. He shared a powerful video in which Sam Villalobos, class of 2018, described the middle-class as the “classic American dream”.

Chloe Caston-Sanders, a current student, noted that “not everyone is OK with a minimum wage job” and we need “pathway programmes to doctors or careers that aren’t easily accessible”. ...
11 Sep 2020 10AM English South Africa Business News · News

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