Access to Higher Education

The portion of state budget funding spent on higher education has decreased by 40 percent since 1978, while at the same time most tuition fees have significantly increased. Between 2000 and 2010, the cost of tuition and room and board at public universities increased by 37 percent. During the early 1980’s, higher education funding saw a shift from reliance on state and federal government funding, to a greater reliance on family contributions and student loans. Pell Grants, which were created to offset the cost of college for low-income students, started funding more middle-class students, stretching the funds thinner for everyone. During the mid-1990’s only 34 percent of the cost for college was covered by the maximum offered Pell Grant, compared to 84 percent during the 1970’s.

The federal government also began funding less grant programs and more loan programs, leaving students with higher amounts of debt. In 2003, almost 70 percent of federal student aid awarded was student loans, which was a much higher percentage than just a decade before.  The National Center for Education Statistics reports that during the 2007-2008 school year, 66 percent of degree recipients had borrowed money to complete their degree. On average, their borrowed amount was $24,700. 36 percent of the graduates had to borrow from state or private sources, averaging total loan amounts of 13,900 and 95 percent of these loans were private. Furthermore, the economic troubles of the recent decade has left higher education funding being shifted towards other needs because higher education institutions have the ability to gain extra funds through raising tuition and private donations.

Policy changes in higher education funding raise questions about the impact on student performance and access to higher education. Many early studies focused on social integration and a person’s individual attributes as the factors for degree completion. More recent studies have begun to look at larger factors including state funding and financial support.It has been found that providing need-based aid proved to increase degree completion in 48 states.There has also been a positive correlation between providing merit-based aid and degree completion. Also, as the level to qualify for state need-based aid is lowered, the probability of persistence increases. Low-income families now have to pay more to attend college, making it harder for such populations to attain higher education. In 1980, low-income families had to use 13 percent of their income to pay for one year of college. In 2000, this proportion grew to 25 percent of their income, while high-income families use less than 5 percent of their income.

Most discussions on how higher education funding is determined have focused on the economic and demographic influences; however, according to a 2010 study on the relationship between politics and state funding many political factors influence higher education funding. First, as the number of interest groups for higher education in a state grows, so does the amount of money given to higher education. Second, states with a more liberal political ideology give more funding to higher education. Third, governors with more control over the state budget tend to award less money to higher education. This is attributed again to the fact that higher education funding is considered to be tradable with other programs. Fourth, a more professional state legislature correlates with more funding for higher education. Professional in this situation is referring to a legislature that acts similarly to the U.S. Congress in terms of having a large amount of staff members and spending more time in session. Fifth, the more diverse a state population becomes, the less support there will be for higher education funding.

Socioeconomic status
Different societal factors such as socioeconomic status can play a part in one’s chances of taking advantage of higher education. A 2011 national study found that college students with a high socioeconomic status persisted in college 25 percent more than students with a low socioeconomic status. In fact, students with a high socioeconomic status are 1.55 times more likely to persist in college than students with a low socioeconomic status. A 2007 study found that only 52 percent of low-income students who qualified for college enrolled within 2 years of graduation compared to 83 percent of high-income students. Attaining even higher degrees than a bachelor’s degree can also be affected by socioeconomic status. A 2008 study reports that only 11 percent of students with low socioeconomic status report earning a master’s, medical, or law degree compared to 42 percent of high socioeconomic students.

Socioeconomic status can also effect which populations begin higher education after high school graduation. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that in 2009 high school graduates from low-income families enrolled in college immediately at a rate of 55 percent. In comparison, 84 percent of high school graduates from high-income families enrolled immediately into college. Middle-class families also saw lower rates with 67 percent enrolling in college immediately. As the level of socioeconomic status increases, so does the likelihood that the student will enroll in college at some point. It also found that a high percentage of students who delayed enrollment in college attended high schools that had a high level of participation in the free and reduced lunch program. Furthermore, students who had access to financial aid contacts were more likely to enroll in higher education than students who did not have these contacts.

Socioeconomic status can also influence performance rates once at a university. According to a 2008 study, students with a low socioeconomic status study less, work more hours, have less interaction with faculty, and are less likely to join extra-curricular clubs and groups. 42 percent of students with low socioeconomic status indicated that they worked more than 16 hours a week during school, with a high percentage working up to 40 hours a week.

Race can also play a part in a student’s persistence rate in college. Drop out rates are highest with the Native American and African American population, both with drop out rates greater than 50 percent. Caucasians and Asian Americans had the lowest dropout rates. Race can also play a part in which students even enroll in college. A 2007 study found that African Americans are more likely to delay enrolling in college. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that between 2003 and 2009 rates of immediate college enrollment increased for Asian Americans and Whites, but not for African Americans The 2011 Condition of Education study found that in 2008, 63 percent of college students were white, while only 14 percent were African American and 12 percent were Hispanic.

Unauthorized immigrants
It is estimated that 65,000 unauthorized immigrants graduate from high school each year. These graduates have lived in the United States for more than 5 years and most were often brought to the United States by their parents as young children. This leaves the U.S. Government with the question of what rights to give the unauthorized immigrants after their graduation, particularly with access to higher education. A 2010 study conducted at the University of Nevada Las Vegas on unauthorized immigrants and higher education:

    Installing pathways to higher education and in-state tuition for undocumented students in the United States presents both opportunities and constraints in developing practices that promote social justice, equity, and equality. Those who are sympathetic to the challenges facing undocumented students may support opportunities to promote the potential of those who are deserving of incorporation and membership in U.S. society. On the other hand, proponents of tighter borders and tougher immigration laws may view all undocumented people, including model, hardworking young people, as “illegals” or temporary workers and consider them to be drains on the resources of society. This puts educational administrators in precarious positions since they are professionals who are trained to promote and support students in their pursuit of knowledge and self-improvement. Therefore, many professionals are left with little choice but to search for individuals and resources already established within outlaw cultures.”

In 1996, the United States passed a law banning states from offering residency benefits to unauthorized immigrants that they didn’t then also offer to every U.S. citizen. This basically made it so that states could not offer in-state tuition to unauthorized immigrants, even if they technically qualified based on residency status. States have argued the clarity of this law and many have enacted their own laws allowing in-state tuition to be given on the claims that it’s based on high school attendance and not explicitly residency. This law is especially important since unauthorized immigrants are also unable to obtain governmental financial aid and are unable to legally work, leaving them without sources to help pay for out-of-state tuition.

The Dream Act was introduced in 2001 and aims to give more access to higher education for unauthorized immigrants by repealing the law 1996 law. It also aimed to set up pathways for students who obtain higher education to become legal residents. The act has been introduced in many states and many different times, but has still not been passed. Critics of the act argue that it rewards the illegal actions of the immigrants and encourages more people to try and illegally immigrate to the US. They also argue that a financial burden could be placed on taxpayers. Proponents argue the opposite, emphasizing that giving the unauthorized immigrants an opportunity at higher education means they will be more self-sufficient in the future, contributing more to taxes and relying less on state resources. They also claim that children should not be punished for the actions of their parents and that giving them this opportunity would encourage them to be contributing and law abiding citizens. Whether this act would have positive effects on unauthorized immigrants attending college is still hard to see since not many states have actually done it and the time span has not been enough for thorough research.

The 2010 University of Nevada Las Vegas study recommends key policy changes to support unauthorized immigrants access to higher education.

    In general, practitioners need to weigh opportunities against constraints and consider the potential opportunities to promote social justice, equality, and equity in higher education access. Rather than considering undocumented students as “illegals” and restricting their access to legitimate educational pathways, it is recommended that, at the very least, those in positions of power adopt an outlaw cultural framework to support the strengths inherent within diversity as well as pursue avenues of social justice for undocumented students who are seeking to access higher education to improve their future and secure permanent membership in U.S. society.