Vital Signs

The Real Crisis of Higher Education

The current debate about the state and future of higher education seems to center on the question of whether a college degree is a “privilege” or a “right.”  The loudest argument is that any high-school graduate who has followed a “college pathway” and has made decent grades should be admitted to a state institution of higher learning.  The assumed “right” is expressed in the phrase “any student”; the “privilege,” in “decent grades.”  Admission to college is only part of the process, though; financing college is another.  The lines are blurred when the capability to pay for higher education becomes a potential restriction of the student’s “right” to take advantage of the “privilege.”  At some point, the question of the “worth” of the whole process must come into play.

Fifty years ago, a university degree was the province of the wealthy and the upper-middle class.  Poorer (mostly white) students could attend college if they received merit- or talent-based scholarships or if they qualified for the G.I. Bill.  Students still try to “work their way through,” but it is almost impossible to pay for tuition, fees, books, and room and board for even a minimum course load with part-time wages.

Both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, responding to what was...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here