[Marxism] Higher education: engine of inequality

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Apr 3 07:56:15 MDT 2009

Shut Out
How the Cost of Higher Education Is Dividing Our Country
By Andy Kroll

A few months ago, Bobby Stapleton, a 21-year-old student at the 
University of Michigan, received a phone call from his younger brother. 
The good news came first: a senior in high school, he, too, had been 
accepted by the university, the fourth sibling in his family to have the 
opportunity to make the move to Ann Arbor from rural Hemlock, Michigan.

Then came the bad news: his brother had no intention of telling their 
parents, because as Bobby put it, "he knew the money just wasn't there 
anymore, and that it wasn't realistic." The financial crisis had plunged 
the Stapleton family into severe debt. At this point, paying Michigan's 
modest (by college standards) $11,000 tuition for another child appeared 
unlikely. As his younger brother told their younger sister, Bobby 
recalled, "Things were just going to have to be different for the two of 

Since that moment, Bobby and his older sisters have tirelessly searched 
for a way to change that fate. He has sought advice from older relatives 
who attended the university, met with members of its financial aid 
office, and explained his brother's situation to officials at the 
Michigan Education Trust, a statewide tuition payment program; all this 
in addition to a full class schedule and a dormitory dining-hall job 
that often keeps him at work until one or two in the morning. Still, 
Bobby wasn't about to give up. "I can truly say that being part of this 
university is one of the best things that's ever happened to me." He 
was, he swore, going to do everything he could to make sure that his 
brother and sister had that same opportunity.

Engines of Inequality

Welcome to the other crisis spreading quietly across the country: the 
crisis of college affordability. Talk to enough students and families on 
a college campus like the University of Michigan, where I'm a student, 
and you'll hear plenty of stories like Bobby Stapleton's -- of families 
scraping by in increasingly tough times as tuition bills rise, of 
students working second and third jobs, of newly minted graduates 
staggering into an ever more jobless world under the weight of tens of 
thousands of dollars in student-loan debt.

This crisis has been a long time coming, but bad times have brought it 
into clearer focus. In the past several decades, the cost of higher 
education has climbed at an astounding pace -- faster than the Consumer 
Price Index, faster even than the cost of medical care. Over the past 30 
years, the average cost of college tuition, fees, and room and board has 
increased nearly 100%, from $7,857 in 1977-1978 to $15,665 in 2007-2008 
(in constant 2006-2007 dollars). Median household income, on the other 
hand, has risen a mere 18% over that same period, from about $42,500 to 
just over $50,000. College costs, in other words, have gone up at more 
than five times the rate of incomes.


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