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Financial Disparity in American Higher Education

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at BU chapter.

A college education is pivotal to students’ career prospects, intellectual capital, and personal growth. However, the staggering cost of attending traditional four-year institutions of higher education in the United States can be a source of the financial burden to many people, especially low-income families and minorities.

“The Median household income was $67,521 in 2020,” however, university tuition, and housing costs can add up to 80 thousand dollars(BU is a good example of this). As a result, people opt for more affordable options like attending local community colleges. The Community College Research Center at Columbia University found that during the 2018-2019 academic year, the community college racial demographic consisted of  “55% of Hispanic undergraduates, 45% of Asian undergraduates, 44% of Black undergraduates, and 41% of White undergraduates.” An earlier 2015 study revealed that “about 37% of dependent undergraduate students whose families earned less than $20,000 a year attended” community colleges. Community college serves as an incredible vehicle for upward social and economic mobility for underprivileged individuals. Therefore, proper funding for community colleges should be a priority to guarantee students an equal amount of academic rigor, career opportunities, and resources to succeed parallel to the opportunities four-year institutions provide. 

Article II of the Higher Education Act advocates for the strengthening of post-secondary educational institutions by allowing them to “become self-sufficient and expand their capacity to serve low-income students by providing funds to improve and strengthen the academic quality, institutional management, and fiscal stability of eligible institutions.” However, the Center for American Progress reports that “community colleges receive $8,800 less in education revenue per student enrolled than four-year institutions, which translates to the total gap of $78 billion between the two sectors.” Revenues are typically allocated to various resources on campus to ensure students’ academic success and well-being, but lower revenue means less money is being spent on community college students than on four-year college students. Additionally, funding disparities are perpetuated by the state’s refusal to allocate money to community colleges. The CAP reports that “thirteen states lack local funding for any type of public colleges” which includes Washington, Nevada, Arizona, South Dakota, Minnesota, Louisiana, Maryland, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. For example, “Maryland state law imposes unequal funding by requiring that full-time equivalent community college students should be funded at 25 percent the level of students at four-year colleges.” This disparity suggests vast inequity in higher education when students in every college should be given an equal chance to succeed regardless of what circumstances they come from.

In order to minimize the inequality gap between college students from these two types of colleges, federal and local governments should reallocate their funds and invest more money in community colleges. Attending a private university like BU can definitely put us in a bubble of privilege where we often lose sight of how lucky we are to have incredible opportunities and resources that so many students in community colleges might lack.

It is important to take a step back, have perspective, and advocate for equality and equity in education. 

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Migena is a sophomore at BU studying International Relations. She is from Belmont, MA but she grew up in Nepal.