The US has some of the world's best universities, but only for someBy John David Thompson | 02/02/2015 10:36pm
America is undoubtedly home to the best universities of the world. Eight of U.S. News’s “Top 10 Universities in the World” are located in the United States, along with eight in Times High Education’s World Reputation Rankings and seven in Forbes’s list. Unfortunately, even though we have such incredible universities in the U.S., such an education is becoming too much of a financial burden for many Americans. With increasing costs of tuition, housing, books and all the other expenses that accompany a college education, many Americans are questioning the worth of attending college.
For many, student debt has become a reality. The number of college students incurring students debts has steadily increased since the early 2000s. The Wall Street Journal reported 70 percent of 2014 college graduates graduated in debt, and the average debt was $34,000. Unsurprisingly, the gap between graduates’ salaries and debts is only widening.
The University of Alabama estimates attendance to cost $12,591 per year for in-state students and $20,153 for out-of-state students per semester. That does not include transportation and certainly not fraternity or sorority dues, which 33 percent of UA students pay. The median household annual income in Alabama is only $43,253 compared to the national median of $53,036. Thus, the average Alabamian could not afford to send two children to college at the same time, even if they received the maximum Pell Grant amount of $5,500 per year. Just to send one student out of state would be significantly more than half of a family’s annual income in Alabama.
Compare that to Germany, whereonly 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, a college education is free. Gabriele Heinen-Kljajic, minister for science and culture of Lower Saxony, said, “We don’t want higher education which depends on the wealth of the parents.” Yet in America, a country founded upon the beliefs of equality for all, the quality of the education a student receives far too often relies on the wealth of his or her parents. The U.S. has much higher rates of violent crime and rape than Germany, and studies show that Germans feel safer walking alone at night. Furthermore, in terms of violent crime, Alabama – and the South in general – has a higher amount of violent crime than the majority of America. The Alliance for Excellent Education reported that 75 percent of state prison inmates do not hold even a high school degree. There is a direct correlation between education and crime.
Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and founder of the University of Virginia, wrote: “I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowlege(sic) among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom, and happiness.”
“A system of general instruction, which shall reach every description of our citizens, from the richest to the poorest, as it was the earliest, so will it be the latest, of all the public concerns in which I shall permit myself to take an interest,” Jefferson said.
Yet, in 2015, the quality of education in America is still attached to parents’ wealth. The United States cannot afford to let this trend continue. It is time for a change: equal access to education for all Americans, from richest to poorest.
John David Thompson is a sophomore majoring in political science. His column runs biweekly.