Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Equity and the Flagships

Higher education mirrors much of the inequality in wealth throughout the rest of America. Rich people go to rich colleges, poor people go to poor colleges (if they go at all). The New York Times reports today on how the University of Florida and other flagships are trying to increase tuition and raise the quality of education. Of course, one must always wonder if more money really goes for a better education, or if it gets used to buy more prestige and toys. But that's true of any corporation, not just colleges. Some people worry that these tuition hikes are driving out poor students. In fact, the opposite is true: tuition isn't being increased enough at public universities, and as a result upper-middle-class kids looking for a high-quality bargain are filling up the spaces instead of going to a private college. The best approach is a high-tuition, high-aid goal that will enable a college to improve and still allow poorer students to attend. When impoverished students are guaranteed substantial financial aid by colleges, it not only benefits the students about to go to college, but it also creates enormous incentives for young children and their parents to succeed in school. It's time for every flagship (and eventually every college) to adopt the Carolina Covenant. Imagine if 500 colleges in America got together and agreed to make such a promise. It would radically alter the perceptions of people about college access.

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