How America’s 2-Tiered Education System and Perceptions Perpetuate Inequality

© copyright 2013 Betsy L. Angert BeThink

Income inequality raises the ire of most liberals.  At the same time, while ostensibly unaware of the veracity, these self-proclaimed Progressives are thankful for the gifts that inequity brings. Caucasians customarily receive higher wages, better health care and health care coverage.  Indeed, a pinkish person is more likely to be hired and less likely to be fired.  In the area of education, the divide cannot be more evident, that is unless we ask white persons about their careers.  Most do not realize or wish to recognize what has been their truth for all of their lifetimes. White people are privileged people. To acknowledge what is and seems so natural is to admit that one’s equalitarian philosophies are not their practices.  

The American story, or at least the one we tell ourselves is, if we work hard, beginning in school, we will achieve.  We merely need to complete our degree[s], find a job, and start a family. Every step of the way we build a foundation for a strong and stable future.  Life is good.   That is the myth that collectively, we believe.  In the United States, everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed. The question is considering the prevalence of poverty in America, is this true?  

We need only look at the numbers,  and of course, our perceptions.

Black and Brown people are disproportionally poor. Those whose skin is a golden-yellow hue also struggle, more or less so, dependent on the educational level attained and the Ancestral country of origin.  Fifty [50] nations, countless ethnicities within each are identified as Asian-Americans.   A monolith? Hardly.  Refugees, persons who immigrated to the States from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam often arrive as exiles evacuees, or political expatriates. These persons tend to be less educated, a significant percentage are low-wage earners.  Statistically, the number of Asian-Americans without a high school education far exceeds the numbers of whites without.

“Specific ethnic groups, the Hmong, the Bangladeshi, have poverty rates that rival the African-American poverty rate.”   The Hmong value family and agriculture above education. Yet, the stereotype persists, perhaps chastened by the reality that Asian-Americans rather not draw attention to the discrimination they experience.  Setting that aside, with or without attentiveness our impressions, shape our reality, policies, and practices.  Let us consider who, what, how, when, and where an individual obtains entrance to a University.  Also, let us examine as The Atlantic did, How America’s 2-Tiered Education System Is Perpetuating Inequality,

In the United States, more and more students turn to community colleges for an education.  Tuition costs are less, as are standards for admission.  Geographic proximity also makes a two-year degree more attractive.   Community colleges have been portals for the under-served.  The Administration understands this and encourages this entrance.  However, in recent years the rush to attend these institutions has waned.  

The explanations are many.  Most notably, the cost of attending college, even a community college soared. “Economists predict the cost of attending state colleges will soar to $120,000 by 2015. Currently over $40 billion in student loan debt has forced many former students into financial bondage or even bankruptcy.”  The increased cost is not correlated with inflation.

The most visible reason is tuition costs continues to rise.  Confluence and convenience became the reason. More than a score ago, we saw a dramatic change in the structure of student loans.  In 1992, the Federal Stafford Loan program was altered. “Uncle Sam opened the floodgates to government-backed student loans without parent income restrictions.”  Colleges rejoiced and met the news with open arms. The sudden injection of millions of additional aid dollars was seen as an opportunity to increase tuitions. The promotion of the Stafford Loan program as a low-costly option was a cause and an effect. The two together became the formula for hyperinflationary costs.  However, the tale of dollars and “sense” is but one chapter in an invisible and insidious reckoning.

The  April 2012 Center for Higher Education report reveals another daunting reality.  Author and Researcher Dr. Gary Rhodes analyzed the changing climate. Rhodes observed a “complicated cascade effect.” The exploding cost of a college education coupled with enrollment limitations at four-year institutions resulted in a complex paradigm shift.  Today, more middle and upper class students choose community colleges. At the same time, these institutions, like all others, receive less public funding. Classes are filled to capacity. The combination of these dynamics leave less room for low-income and minority students.  Were students from any socioeconomic standing to apply for enrollment in the more prestigious Universities, other realities might lock them out.

Accessibility.  Many universities have gone the way of online coursework, arguing, this method would break the barriers that divide the haves from the have-nots.  However, this move too magnified the gulf. For-profit education entrepreneurs and elite research universities maximized the potential for growth.  Personal gains were supplanted by capital gains.  The faculty at Amherst, in 2006, chose a different route.  The University decided to reserve the majority of its transfer slots for students coming from community college. In some ways, the choice represented potentially a more radical commitment to underprivileged students than online courses.

Amherst president emeritus Anthony Marx states when speaking about four year colleges, many have restrictive transfer policies that heavily weight factors like SAT scores. This standard coupled with a lack of funding for community colleges exacerbated the consequences. Transfer policies are extremely selective, the circumstances are even more dire.  Inequity increases. . The Century Foundation report found that while 81.4 percent of students enter community college plan to transfer and complete a four-year degree, just 11.6 percent are able to do so within six years.

Considering the small number who successfully transition, and that overwhelmingly community colleges serve low-income people and minorities, the higher education system remains two-tiered.  Scholars and notables have described the arrangement as “separate but equal.” “You basically cannot join the middle class without a postsecondary credential at this point,” said Eduardo Padrón, the president of Miami-Dade College, America’s largest community college. And how do people obtain a post-secondary degree? Dependant on you socioeconomic status, easily or not so easily.

Community colleges which serve 44 percent of current college enrollees, are chronically underfunded, just as their students before and after enrollment are under-served. Most of the money that supports higher education flows to elite research universities, not to the community colleges or the state schools that educate large numbers of Americans.  The divide might be most evident in the value diverential.   The direct and indirect help Princeton receives, including tax breaks, is near $54,000 a year per student in federal subsidies. “The College of New Jersey, a public institution a mere 12 miles away, receives a total of about $1,600 a year per student in federal and state subsidies.”

You decide.  Did a Princeton graduate go it alone?  Did his or her success come at great expense, and to whom?  Was the communicty college student given an equal chance? Just out of curiosity, who makes up the 38 percent of American minorities Princeton purports to be in the  undergraduate student body and what about the sixty [60] percent who receive financial aid?  Why might it be that 23 percent of Princeton students take out loans and the average debt at graduation is $5,225 while the average college student graduates with about $28,000 in personal debt?  Is there a two-tiered education system and does it perpetuate inequality?  Watch out for your answers.  You too might be influenced by invisible and insidious biases.

References and Resources…

Mitt, My Good Man

Romney: Rivals’ attacks a ‘good warm-up’

copyright © 2012 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or

Dearest Mitt . . .

I am unsure if we have had the pleasure of an in-person exchange.  I too travel in political circles.  However, I do not recall.  Perhaps we met in the past.  I trust I have done business with you and your firm, Bain Capital.  Bravo on your successes.

Please allow me to introduce myself by way of this letter.  This morning, I caught a glimpse of your Today Show interview with Matt Lauer.  I heard you speak of the exaggerated envy now heard on the campaign trail.  Oh, my friend Mitt, how I relate. If I might; well stated my man. People do want what they do not have. First Bain, then the White House.  Indeed, one Chief Executive position ensured that you were a world power.  The other is but a natural transition. Instead of having a seat at the table of global influence, as President of the United States, you, old man, will own the table.

I concur with the thought expressed in the title of a Wall Street Journal Mitt.  The Bain Capital Bonfire. Romney has a good story to tell, if he’s willing to tell it. Might you have read the account my friend?  The treatise speaks of the gains and losses, signature events in our glorious Capitalist system.  You know the tale dear Mitt and I trust you will articulate it well. I look forward to the day when you share it with me personally; perhaps, over dinner.  Until then, may I offer my own anecdote.  It speaks of why I do not envy you.

Mitt, my man, I am an extremely wealthy individual.  Granted, financially, I have had my share of ups and downs.  At birth, I was born into money.  My father, Michael, had been a very poor young man.  One of thirteen children, the son of first generation Americans, Michael had to work his way to the top.  

Michael enrolled in University. He may have been the first in his family.  He completed his degree in Accounting.  Michael sought and realized Certification.  Then, “visionary” that he was Michael opened his own business. The man was an expert at making money.  He made millions for his client and much for himself.  Ultimately, his firm grew and grew.  

At the time of my birth, my parents lived in a large house on a hill.  The estate was built only a year before.  “Mother” designed the private residence herself.  She chose the neighbor and the acreage.  It was a beautiful plot of land, rolling hills, a deep forest to roam through.  I used to  wander the woods for hours on end.

As a seedling, conceived in a Waldorf Astoria Hotel suite, you might correctly imagine that, as  a child, my clothes were all New York designer collections.  My backyard playground was furnished with the finest swing sets.  We had two.  Sliding boards, climbing bars, and seesaws as well.  Among my favorite toys was not a plaything at all.  Made of wood, large and spacious, a cabin graced the grounds.  Outside of my little log home was a sandbox.  The container for tiny grains did not sit on a lawn. No. the box was built deep into the soil. When I sat within, a portion of my body might appear buried below the surface of the land.  Did I mention the whirly-bird? Oh, Mitt, my life was a child’s delight . . . or so it might have appeared.

I trust any child would have been envious of me, all that I had, and did daily. We vacationed often. A skating weekend here, days away at a resort . . . Sun and fun. Snow and frolic.  ate at the best restaurants regularly. My “father” owned one, that is, in name only.  The Penthouse was an investment made on a client’s behalf.   Taxes, title exchanges. . . shelters and such.   I am sure you understand old man.

My Mom too lived a lovely life. She had no need to work.  Philanthropic endeavors were her want.  Dressed to the nines, she volunteered hither and yon.  At times, the women would play. Bowling. Cards. Shopping.  Mommy was active in many an organization.  Religious affiliations were a wondrous source of shared pleasure.  Father’s career was furthered through the associations.  Mother made friends with the women during daylight hours.  In the evening, the men would join their wives at a club.  On countless occasions, a bigger bash was planned.  

Often, my parents hosted these.  The best china, the finest crystal, and oh the food.  Catered gourmet delicacies filled every room.  As a tot, I would sneak out of my room and “steal” a snack. Sure to be noticed, I was met with a smile and “Is she not so cute?”

Cute? Charming? Endearing? So it might seem. Reason for envy? Absolutely!  That is, if it were true.  Yes, the tale is accurate.  The account is my life.  However, as blissful as it might sound, as beautiful as it might be or have been, it was not.  There were hidden hurts.  

I was a spoiled child. Not spoiled, overindulged or a tike with too much.  I had nothing! There was no love. My parents had no time for me. The two hired a woman to raise me before I was born.  I was given everything, anything my little heart desired, except a connection.  Try as I might, I could not bond with my parents.  I had elder sisters. However, they too abandoned me prior to my first appearance in their home.  

The pair was forever busy.  Each had friends who were surely more fun than a baby sibling.   Fine fabrics hung in their closets and were worn on their backs.  Their bedrooms were as full as their lives without me.  While it may seem that only I was unhappy in this home, in this family, at the age of eight and one half, I discovered the truth.

Ten days after my parents wedding anniversary, my Mom walked out!  I was eight.  My sisters were much older.  It was a Sunday. The five of us were it the same eatery we dined at each Sunday, just as we had for years.  We just ordered dinner when my eldest sibling asked for her allowance.  Mother said she could not have it until she cleaned her room.  Father, on the other hand, assured her she would never need to clean.  He would forever furnish her with a Maid and of course, her pocket money  

I will not bore you with the details or the drama, my friend.  Suffice to say, my mother looked across the table at her selfish children, her moneyed husband whose sincerest interest was to have more, and decided she wanted none of it.  Mommy rose from the table.  Walked towards the door and then, through it.  She left!  Stunned, the rest of us sat there for a minute.  I wonder; was my father thinking of the food that had yet to arrive, or . . .

I will never know. He never spoke to me much.  The next day he did tell us to clean our rooms. We did, but it was too late.  Mother was determined to make a life for herself and any of us who wished to join her.  For a time, there were two of us children.  My eldest sister and I elected to be with our Mom and her new husband, the man I finally felt I could call Dad.

While Mommy was awarded child support and alimony, she refused each.  Barbara wanted none of Michael’s “Dirty Money!” She had had enough of what she characterized as “ill gotten gains.”  That was the reason she chose to give it all up.  We moved to another State and to other than a wealthy suburb.  Our family of four lived a far different life than the one we had always known.  We were poor, dirt poor.

Living on $1500 a year . . . Yes, you read that right. Fifteen-hundred a year for a family of four.  Welfare knocked on our door and said, “You need to apply for financial assistance.  You are eligible.” However, my parents refused.  Mommy wanted no handouts.  Daddy yearned to make it on his, our own.  Mommy gardened.  Daddy did all our household repairs.  Logan returned to school and also worked for meager wages.  Mother too secured a position.  You might recall the once vibrant five and dime, W.T. Grant and Company. Mommy’s employee  discount helped.  The woman who for a score purchased her lingerie at Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord and Taylor, Bonwit Teller’s and other  exclusive establishments bought my first brassiere at Grant’s.

As a child in this newer reality, I was allowed one new outfit in the Fall of the year, for the first day of school and one in the Spring.  Chic, expensive, exceptional and elegant designs? Not anymore.  There were no dollars for such fabulous duds.  Next to nothing at little cost would have to do.  This was true in every aspect of life.

Mommy grew vegetables. Daddy helped.  All our produce was fresh grown.  Breads, pies, cakes and cookies all came out of the family oven.  Store bought goodies were a luxury we could not afford.  Later, Daddy took up fishing.  Even before that, all our entrees were prepared from scratch. Meals were a time for conversation and connections. At last, I was connected!!!!!  That is rich; a richness I envied whenever and wherever I saw it.  Ultimately, I had it! With not a dime to my name, I had love!  I was loved!!!!!!  Mitt, I trust you likely think you have love as well, and money, and that is the reason others feel envious.  Again, I relate to your reality my friend Mitt.

Over the years, wealth once again became part of my life, or perhaps more accurately, in my Mom’s life, by extension, I too had enough. The family moved to another magnificent house.  A panoramic window looked out onto the ocean. The neighbors were highly educated, esteemed, experts in their respective fields.  You know Mitt; they were our kind of people.

While our life was similar to what it was in earlier, years it was not as it had ever been. The difference; this time was our greenbacks were clean!  We laughed often at our lot in life as we do now upon reflection.  So my friend, I do not envy you.  I have and want not.  Oh certainly Mitt, I, as most humans might, enjoy nice “things.”  I acknowledge that is far easier when earnings are great.  However; while I never expected to quote Governor Rick Perry, in this moment I will.  “There is a real difference between Venture Capitalism and Vulture Capitalism.”  My personal experience Mitt is: A vulture capitalist eats children and families.  A venture capitalist feeds people so that they might prosper.  A free market Entrepreneur wishes to ensure that every person, one and all, have the earnings necessary to live well.

References and Resources . . .