Should the Government Help Support Universities?

Thanks in large part to President Obama’s focus on higher education reform, there’s been a lot of talk lately about whether taxpayers should help foot the bill when it comes to higher education. One side argues that if more Americans go to college, the middle class will expand, so higher education should be available to everyone. The other side tends to reply that directing public funds to higher education mostly helps the wealthy, since they’re the main group that goes to college anyway.

In The Atlantic, writer Jordan Weissman takes a look at who’s really attending college. He finds that 36 percent of students at four-year public institutions–in other words, a hefty chunk of the student population–are classified as financially “independent.” What does that mean, exactly?

“You can qualify as independent a few ways, including if you’re married, over the age of 24, an orphan, are a military veteran, or have your own children. But the key part is this: Everyone assumes you’ll be paying your own way through school (and as a result, you might receive more financial aid)… And therein lies the trouble with figuring out how wealthy independent students actually are: since nobody asks how much their parents earn, we don’t truly know how much of a financial cushion they have to rely on.”

We do know, however, that this segment skews toward the low income side of the scale. Many of them have dependents, like spouses and children, and many of them delayed going to college after completing high school, or dropped out of high school and received a GED. So maybe colleges aren’t full of wealthy upper class trust fund kids after all.

Read the full article for more information.

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