The Institution of Higher Education as a Place of Public Interest

This past month, we were fortunate enough to witness the incredibly brilliant Dr. Carla Shedd and Dr. Tressie Mcmillan Cottom discuss the problems of inaccessibility within our education system, particularly that of higher ed, in “Change Series: Making Education More Equitable”, hosted by Dr. Cathy Davidson. 

When discussing higher education, there is this notion ingrained into our society that defines college as the only way to achieve this idea of “social mobility”. We are constantly being told to work hard in college so that we can make more money and have a “good” and stable job in the future. However, as Dr. Shedd and Dr. Cottom highlight, this mindset is both faulty and problematic when we take into consideration inequality, inaccessibility, and lack of resources and funding, mainly for students of color and students belonging to the lower and working classes. Schools across the country cannot be funded equally, simply because each institution has different needs. Dr. Cottom talked about how we constantly use higher ed as an individual savings account and an individual social mobility account. However, she argues that “this only works if it works for everybody”. There needs to be more of a push for funding based on the specific needs of a university because it’s difficult to take care of the students when funding is scarce. 

Also, we’re in dire need of abolishing this idea that higher education is an institution designed to guarantee social mobility. This becomes extremely harmful when we acknowledge inequalities in our education system. Students who are part of lower and working classes, students of color, and students with disabilities are often discouraged from applying to universities. And even if students who fall under these categories are able to attend these institutions, they are often slammed with student debt after graduation, not guaranteed stable income, and still have to fight for a seat at the table. We put elite colleges on a pedestal so high that they seem to forget they exist because the public decided to take an interest in them. This is why they favor people who come from wealthy backgrounds, because that money serves in their best interest, and makes the campus more exclusive to those who can afford it, therefore creating an environment that’s inaccessible to many. Without students insisting on attending school, there would be no universities to attend. It’s time we rethink this institution of higher education as one that is accessible and seeks to serve the public, not just the wealthy and elite. In the words of Dr. Davidson, it’s time to turn that question of “who am I missing?” to “who am I leaving out?”

(Also, I’ll link an article I read the other day about how colleges are reinforcing inequality for disenfranchised minorities. Definitely check it out if you have the time.)

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