Should higher education in the United States be considered a public or private good? The answer to this question has been a hot-button topic of discussion among educators, politicians, and policy-makers for decades. For low-income students in particular, the answer to this question essentially dictates their success in life, if success is defined as achieving financial stability and upward social mobility. Students from lower-income backgrounds have less of a chance at successful, lucrative careers and, in turn, at upward social mobility or class reproduction than their middle-to-upper class counterparts. However, this issue is not solely a lower-income or working-class problem—higher education institutions in the United States, particularly large, state schools, are set up to best serve its most affluent students. There are many reasons for this. One is that the negative effects of the prejudice education policies of decade’s past continue to reverberate within our nation’s institutions of higher education. Another is the shift in funding for higher education. Due to cuts in public state funding, universities must now look to its students to compensate by raising the cost of tuition. This also means cuts to college programs and services provided for students. For this reason, the socioeconomic status and education level of a student’s parent(s) has never played a larger role in determining future success than it does today. This paper aims to explore how students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds are at a great disadvantage at the onset of college relative to their higher-SES counterparts. It also aims to discuss how the continuing privatization of higher education institutions further limits or obstructs the low-socioeconomic student pathway to success.
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