The big gap for students

Why income matters and how it affects us as college students

College is a privilege all of us are lucky to experience, but as the gap between the rich and poor widens, the more difficult it becomes to graduate.

I am in my third year of college and in the time I’ve been here, I’ve paid for college by myself and with help from financial aid. I am very grateful for the aid I receive to help me pay for school. If it weren’t for such assistance, I would not have written this column.

However, with cuts to financial aid, grants from the state and tuition rates climbing, paying for school is becoming more difficult each year – and your income background matters.

The article, “College graduation rates: Income really matters” by Tami Luhby, which was published on CNNMoney, indicates the difference in graduation rates between the top and bottom income groups has widened by nearly 50 percent over two decades.

So, if you’re among those who do not come from a wealthy background, graduating college is going to become a lot more difficult. Not to mention the fact that Gov. Rick Snyder recently stated he wants college financial aid standards to be based on graduation rates in the next fiscal year.

Ferris has a four-year graduation rate of 26 percent, which is medium, according to U.S. News College. I have reason to believe that’s an indicator that if those standards are for four years only, there will be less aid available to Ferris students.

Realistically, it is rare for a student to obtain his degree within four years these days. The State of Michigan has been cutting university support and is expected to provide about $1.2 billion next year to its 15 public universities, including Ferris.

According to Martha Bailey, assistant economics professor at the University of Michigan, some 54 percent of students from wealthy families obtained bachelor’s degrees, while only nine percent of low-income students got degrees. What this says about higher education today is it is quickly becoming a privilege for the wealthy only.

Bailey also recently co-authored a paper looking at students who graduated in the late 1990s and early 2000s and compared them to those in college two decades before. She found those who came from wealthy backgrounds made great gains in college graduation rates, while those from low-income backgrounds only inched up over that time period.

In addition, 36 percent of the upper-income children graduated college and five percent of the poor did – and while two-thirds of freshmen from wealthier households finish, only one-third of their poorer classmates do.

So obviously, there is a huge income inequality gap. Those who come from lower-income families may struggle to graduate on time, if at all. Everyone deserves a higher education, regardless of their background. For students who do come from wealthy backgrounds and whose parents can afford to pay for your college, count your lucky stars; you are blessed. Don’t forget that.

However, so am I and other students who can be in college because of financial aid assistance, but how much longer is that going to last? Higher paying jobs require more education and skills, but if a student can’t afford college, they can’t learn the skills they need.

Today, a higher education is needed more than ever before, and getting to graduation is becoming an obstacle course.