“Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.” – Horace Mann

In this post, I am examining the correlation between education and income as it relates to the ever-widening gap between the rich and poor. In addition to differences in levels of educational achievement, many other factors contribute to the widening income gap. Economists point to the loss of higher paying, manufacturing jobs and the increase of lower paying service jobs as one cause of the widening gap. It has also been pointed out that higher paying jobs are clustering around major cities with active tech companies making it harder for people in other parts of the country to find high paying jobs. Whatever the reason, the data clearly shows wage stagnation for middle and lower income workers while at the same time income for those in the top brackets has soared. For more data regarding income inequality visit Ineaquality.org.

Soaring Costs of College

At the same time, the cost of college has increased dramatically making it more and more difficult for children from lower-income families to attend and complete a college education. A troubling trend given that U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics shows that, in some cases, a college graduates weekly income will be double that of someone with only a high school diploma. States experiencing budget shortfalls have reduced support for public colleges who in turn have raised tuition and fees. For more information about how state funding for public colleges and universities has changed check out the State by State Fact Sheets provided by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Rising Cost of College

Rising Cost of Education

Beyond the challenge of paying for higher education, many schools struggle to adequately prepare students for college or develop essential skills through vocational or technical education. There is no one perfect path for every student. Schools must strive to provide a variety of options designed to maximize the talents of each student for whatever the future may hold.

I have long felt that we have become a nation that, in a misguided attempt to improve the economy or our standing in the world, focuses on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to the point of excluding other valid areas of study and failing to recognize the importance of providing opportunities for all students to discover and develop their talents, whatever they may be. The American public education system is struggling to succeed at its mission of providing equal opportunity for all and to be an equalizing force that provides the knowledge and skills necessary for people to be successful citizens.

In 2017, more than 50% the burden of funding public colleges and universities in most states has been shifted to the students in the form of higher tuition and fees. In his insightful article, America Higher Education Hits a Dangerous Milestone, Ronald Brownstein cites statistics showing that since 1992 state spending on higher education at public colleges and universities has declined by approximately 8% while tuition revenue per student has increased by 96% (Annual Survey of State Spending – State Higher Education Executive Officers). This shift in burden from government to students and families has come at a time when more and more minorities and students from low-income families seek to continue their education but may find the cost prohibitive.

Economic Segregation

image of wealthy neighborhood versus poorEven though laws were passed to desegregate the schools, a new form of segregation has evolved – economic segregation. Schools in wealthy areas are well funded while those in poorer areas struggle to meet the needs of the students and maintain a crumbling infrastructure. One need only to read the detailed history of the Detroit Public Schools contained in the report A School District in Crisis. The achievement gap between students in wealthy and poor districts continues to widen as does the number of students from each completing college.

A 2012 article in the Atlantic, The Decline of the Great Equalizer, quotes research by Andy Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston, indicating that the children of wealthy and educated parents repeat the cycle by completing college and marrying someone with a similar educational background thus further entrenching of the economic gains of one segment of society.

“All the evidence shows that children born to two highly educated, high-income people tend to obtain the highest level of academic achievement,” said Sum. “At the bottom, where the mom is not that well-educated and tends to have lower income, children tend to do worse.”

It is clear that students who receive a quality education from pre-school through high school and have access to funding to pursue advanced training in a college or vocational setting have a much better chance of securing employment and higher lifetime earnings. What can we as a nation do to make this a reality for all children?

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