Opinion: 2013: The Year America Went Back to College
"This year America went to college because America is really nervous about everything College-with-a-capital-C is supposed to mean: mobility, meritocracy, and the American dream," Tressie McMillan Cottom writes in a Slate opinion piece. "Our obsession with higher education often came out in stories that were ostensibly about completely separate issues. Coverage of the federal government shutdown in October featured a lot of student voices, but little of it focused on working-class and poor students, whose food and child care subsidies were hit hard because wealthy pols in Washington couldn’t play nicely in their publicly subsidized sandbox. And while you might be hard-pressed to think of a fodder less suited for a higher-ed think piece than the morass that is the U.S. tax code, Elizabeth Stoker and Matthew Bruenig pulled off a wicked smart analysis in Salon of how inequalities manifest through tax policies, are rewarded by legacy admissions at prestigious universities, and altogether make a mockery of American meritocracy. ... But all of the above is the what of 2013, but not the why. Why do we all care so much? (With 33 percent of Americans possessing a college degree, higher ed is still a relatively narrow world.) There is the practical debate about the cost, risk, and rewards of colleges and universities. But there is also the higher-ed debate as a symbolic conversation. The symbolic conversation is about what we believe College-with-a-capital-C represents. It has represented economic and social mobility, two things that we increasingly feel are slipping away. We can feel the persistent, growing income inequality in our daily lives. Workers lucky enough to be employed are working longer hours and earning fewer real dollars, adjusted for inflation. Education is supposed to fix that kind of inequality. ... If we’re hyperanxious about college access, costs, and returns, it is because we’re hyperanxious about the fissures in our social contract that college is supposed to patch up. There is a lot that higher education can do and a lot we should expect it to do. Higher education should absolutely incubate an educated, empathetic citizenry with critical-thinking skills. It should produce research that matters for the least well-off of us as well at it does the most well-off. It should make workers, but it should also make us more than mere workers. In 2013, America went to college through the popular media imagination because we’re still hopeful that the promise of higher education is alive, for with it goes the promise of American mobility, opportunity, and identity. But there is not much on the horizon that promises to redress the insecurity that has sharpened our focus on the value of higher education."
NASFAA's "Financial Aid in the News" section highlights media coverage of financial aid to help members stay up to date with the latest news. Inclusion in Today's News does not imply endorsement of the material or guarantee the accuracy of information presented.