On Feb. 8, the University of Wisconsin announced a pledge to “cover four years of tuition and segregated fees for any incoming freshman from Wisconsin whose family’s annual household adjusted gross income is $56,000 or less, roughly the median family income in Wisconsin. Transfer students from Wisconsin meeting the same criteria will receive two years of tuition and segregated fees.”
Eligibility for the coverage comes solely from the family’s adjusted gross income, with no other application or eligibility requirements. In a meeting of the Board of Regents, Chancellor Blank said, “Our goal is to ensure that anyone who is admitted can afford to be a Badger.”
This announcement comes on the heels of several other Big Ten schools announcing similar pledges, including Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio State and Purdue. The $3.3 million yearly investment will be funded in full by private donations and other institutional resources, not tax dollars.
These programs take a major step toward addressing the oppressive inaccessibility of higher education. More so today than ever before, it is important to have some level of education beyond high school, but it has become hard to keep up with increasing costs of attendance.
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In a recent survey by CareerBuilder, a job search engine site, many employers indicated increasing educational requirements for hiring. With unemployment so low, the job market is becoming increasingly competitive. That competitiveness means many employers attract college graduates to positions that historically wouldn’t have required more than a high school degree.
According to a report released by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, there will be 55 million job openings by the year 2020, but 65 percent of those jobs will require some form of education beyond a high school degree. Compare this with 1973, when just 28 percent of jobs required higher education — this figure increased to 55 percent by 1992, and has continued to steadily increase since.
The same report indicates that within the country’s fastest-growing occupations (STEM fields, healthcare occupations and community services), at least 90 percent of workers have some form of postsecondary education and training.
Clearly, a college degree, even from a two-year or vocational college, is becoming more and more important. But even those in higher income brackets are struggling to justify paying the steep education cost out-of-pocket.
In the 1980s, the cost of four years of tuition as an undergrad at UW would have been around $4,000. Today, tuition for that four-year degree will cost Wisconsin residents more than $42,000. Tuition has increased by more than a factor of 10.
Rates have increased at a rate with which post-graduate starting salaries can’t possibly keep up. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, in 1980, the average starting salary for a recent bachelor’s degree graduate was $18,553. By 2015, that figure had increased to $50,219, about 2.5 times that in 1980 and nowhere near the 1,000 percent increase in tuition costs during the same period.
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On a national level, according to Forbes Magazine, while the consumer price index has risen by about 115 percent since 1985, the average price of college tuition has managed to increase by more than 500 percent in the same period.
We have fallen into an inescapable Catch-22: You can’t make a good enough wage without a college degree, but so many degree programs have become so expensive, that by the time you finish paying off all that debt, you barely come out ahead.
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
If this country wants to supply the strong labor market that it is beginning to necessitate, we need to support more programs like Bucky’s Tuition Promise. This program shows UW is committed to developing all students, not just those the university thinks will be able to pay.
The university expects to cover more than 800 incoming students each year with this program, meaning the ever-elusive “American Dream” may find its way back. Especially in Wisconsin, where wealth inequality is so stark, and where race plays such a large role in that discrepancy, it is important that we actively work toward dismantling these systems.
Education is the most powerful equalizer in the world, and funding programs that expand access to education is a momentous step toward eliminating the oppressive institutions that inhibit our citizens, and in turn, our country, from prospering.
Cait Gibbons ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in Chinese and statistics.