Should Social Justice be a Factor in your Choice of College?

Sophie Koch

As the United States falls guilty to the constant inflation of college prices, Americans are left dealing with current college admissions amidst an economic plummet. Commencing summer with an unemployment rate of 14.7%, it’s safe to say that many Americans are struggling to cope with newly arising financial issues; for many, this includes the inability to pay for college. In a survey monitored by the College Savings Foundation, researchers found that 55% of students and 69% of paying parents agree that the pandemic has impacted their ability to pay for school. With these struggles so widespread,  how will colleges be made more accessible for those unable to pay tuition? In fact, why should we even consider socioeconomic diversity on said college campuses?

In our current state, it is inevitable that schools will try to compensate for the lasting effect of unpredictable enrollment due to the Coronavirus. You might be asking how these institutions will counteract these economic issues? To put it simply, many colleges and universities will admit more full paying students to increase their revenue and stabilize their pockets, therefore directly contributing to a decline in admitted pell grant recipients (a form of financial aid for undergraduate students who display exceptional financial need) and subsequently undergraduates with lower socioeconomic status.

According to college access scores (the accessibility rating for students that fall into the lower socioeconomic class), the current school “categories” doing the most for low income students include:

  • UC schools (Irvine, Davis, SB, SD, LA, and Berkeley)

  • Liberal Arts colleges (Amherst, Pomona, Vassar and Wellesly, etc.)

  • Large Universities (University of Florida, University of Washington, etc.)

  • Ivy Leagues (Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, Brown, Yale, etc.)

The imperative question to  ask yourself is not if you can personally afford the tuition, but rather “am I feeding into an institution that does not provide opportunities to those less fortunate than myself?” When referencing college applications, Malcolm Gladwell, a reporter known for his podcasts series called Revisionist History, urges students to be considerate that “every choice you make, even if it’s the right choice at that moment, has larger consequences”. Every highschooler should start by reflecting on whether or not being located on a college campus that is representative of opportunity and socioeconomic equality is important to you. Would you like to see a student body that reflects that of the real world, or instead be surrounded by a class benefitting from their wealth? Although many of us can look past the opportunities lost for low income students, every highschool senior should be aware of their action’s influence on others their age that are less fortunate. Without educating ourselves and questioning our morals, we are choosing to live in a bubble of privilege. If you ultimately decide that your top school is one with a low college access score, but you have fallen in love with it for various reasons, then so be it. The idea is not that we shouldn’t apply to these schools, it is that we need to educate ourselves and question our morals to be made aware of our privilege in the first place.

Beyond a social justice standpoint, going to a more diverse school offers you opportunities that could never arise from surrounding yourself with those that have faced your same issues, lifestyle, discrimination, and upbringing. Ask yourself if you’re paying a premium to be at a school where everyone is like you. If college at its heart is about education, an easy conclusion drawn is that one of the most prominent features of University is learning from your peers.

“The best education comes when you mix students from all backgrounds. When the child of an investment banker sits in class next to the child of a janitor, the two of them have a learning experience that they could not have amongst people just like themselves.”

-Malcolm Gladwell

As college admissions are in full swing and students evaluate each college and university, why not take college access into consideration? For every college you apply to, gauge whether or not you can feel socially and morally responsible feeding into their institution, knowing that your high tuition is for the better - however you might choose to judge that. As seniors apply, and juniors and sophomores start to consider university, we should be aware of where our money is going. Are you feeding into a school that has a large endowment and does not utilize their budget for the less fortunate, or are you taking a part in the social justice movement that is equality in higher education amongst those less fortunate than yourselves?