College Tuition Costs as Another Social Inequality


It is common for the representatives of the older generations to highlight the importance and various benefits of getting a college education. Indeed, many people would agree that their bachelor’s degree is the key to an extended number of opportunities, and college is an essential step toward the desired career goals and level of life. Nevertheless, it is important to mention that not all young people are from rich or middle-income families, and tuition is not affordable for many students. Numerous parents try to save money for their children’s education since their birth. Further, it is typical for many low-income families to only have money for their older kid’s education, while their younger children often have to look for a job while still in school to be able to go to college later.

What is more, students of color and students who combine work and study usually face various inequalities and cannot graduate. Thus, despite the fact that numerous people refuse to consider this situation a problem, the cost of high education is usually a detrimental burden for low-income students and persons of color. Colleges need to be more aware of the necessity to help such students study and graduate successfully.

Background and Essence of the Problem

The issue of high education being another reproduction of social inequalities rather than a source of great opportunities is studied by numerous modern researchers. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a small group of wealthy families dominated society and received all the benefits, including access to quality education (Marginson). However, it has been changing gradually, and from the 1980s, more people, involving those who earned less money or did not have high social status, received an opportunity to get a bachelor’s degree.

Further, Goldrick-Rab explores the issue of education becoming increasingly inaccessible to most students from low-income families, as well as African Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities (192-218). According to the researcher, who studies the situation on the example of colleges and schools in Milwaukee, in 1990, “the state of Wisconsin covered almost 70 percent of the costs of the instruction for undergraduates” (201). In other words, only thirty percent were in the form of tuition, which was rather affordable for working-class students. However, in 2008, students had to pay approximately sixty percent of the costs via tuition, and this trend was common for the whole nation (Milwaukee 201). With declining state support and growing tuition, it is becoming more and more difficult for the representatives of students of color or from low-income families to graduate.

Current Situation

Overall, with a rather modest contribution from the government, students and their families have to use their savings and incomes together with loans and grants to pay the tuition bills (Burns). Additionally, it is also vital to highlight that those individual returns on education are now extremely uncertain precisely because of the students’ inability to graduate or the debt they accumulate during their studies (Goldrick-Rab 202). Therefore, if these trends remain unchanged, it is possible that every year fewer young people from low-income families, as well as persons of color, who could become promising and valuable specialists in the future, will want to go to college.

Unfortunately, higher education in present days is more of a burden for the youth. Marginson notices that “access to good education depends increasingly on the income, education and wealth of one’s parents,” which also means that colleges add to the issue of inequality. Though they try to help low-income students receive grants and then successfully graduate, colleges still do not do enough to eliminate the gap between working-class students and high-income ones. For example, according to the Washington Post, “only 14 percent of students from low-income families graduate with a bachelor’s degree” (Burns). In other words, getting enrolled in college and receiving a study grant is not as challenging as graduating and getting a bachelor’s degree. It may seem surprising for some people, but there are actually numerous reasons for this fact to be true.

Contributing Factors

To begin with, there are three major factors that may prevent low-income young people from either graduating or going to college in the first place. For example, one such reason is that some school graduates may change their minds after being admitted to the college of dreams is their fear of not being able to pay for their education (Minds Matter Colorado). Further, many students of color or young people from poor families report not being guided or not receiving enough support in the summer months before their first day of college or after the beginning of studies (Minds Matter Colorado). For instance, some students from low-income families may need additional grants and programs that would allow them to pay less, but they are not informed about these opportunities.

The third reason may be the most challenging and serious. Most students of color or from the working class cannot receive help from their families and have to pay their tuition fees by themselves (Mitchell). Consequently, such students need to combine work and study, which in most cases is too overwhelming (Torraco). Considering that they have to work almost every day to be able to earn enough, and college homework and lectures also take much time, most young people develop mental problems like depression or anxiety, get addicted to alcohol or drugs, and undermine their physical health (Mitchell). Thus, a major part of such students drops out of college; some graduate but have to spend money on treatment or debts; and only a small part of them manage to succeed. Goldrick-Rab talks about such a student who had to take care of her child, study, and work about thirty hours per week to pay the bills (196). Unfortunately, though she was successful at first, this student did not graduate. This example explains why getting a higher education is a burden for most low-income students and proves that colleges contribute to social inequalities.


To draw a conclusion, one may say that increased attention should be paid to the issue of inaccessible and unaffordable high education. It is hard to disagree that the youth’s craving for knowledge and the desire to develop and acquire additional skills should be encouraged. Every year, fewer high school graduates decide to go to college because the number of sources of income that do not require a bachelor’s degree is growing rapidly. For example, blogging, setting up targeted advertising, creating websites, and copywriting are well-paid and creative professions, for which one-month courses are enough, and a diploma of higher education is not needed at all.

However, those young people who still want to get an education cannot receive enough support and encouragement from the government, making them either give up their dreams or combine work and study, which also has adverse effects on their health. Therefore, in order to make sure that there are enough good and experienced specialists in the future, it is vital to address the problem as soon as possible. More low-income students have to be provided with an opportunity to be enrolled in good colleges and then graduate successfully.

Works Cited

Burns, Bridget. “College Rankings Need More Focus on Graduation Rates of Low-Income Students.” The Washington Post, 2018, Web.

Goldrick-Rab, Sara. “City of Broken Dreams.” Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream, University of Chicago Press, 2016, pp. 192-218.

Marginson, Simon. “Higher Education and Growing Inequality.” Academic Matters, 2016, Web.

Minds Matter Colorado. “One Reason Lower Income Students Don’t Attend College (And What to Do About It).” Minds Matter Colorado, 22019, Web.

Mitchell, Michael. “State Higher Education Funding Cuts Have Pushed Costs to Students, Worsened Inequality.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2019, Web.

Torraco, Richard. “Economic Inequality, Educational Inequity, and Reduced Career Opportunity: A Self‐perpetuating Cycle?” New Horizons in Adult Education and Human Resource Development, vol. 30, no. 1, 2018, pp. 19-29.

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ChalkyPapers. "College Tuition Costs as Another Social Inequality." October 16, 2023.