Tuition anxiety plagues many American families, but Chicagoans of color may find it especially difficult to afford higher education. Six in 10 Chicago residents of color (59%, compared to just 41% of white residents) think economic inequality is worse in Chicago compared to other U.S. cities, making an already costly opportunity for advancement – a post-secondary education – feels even further away. reach.
While small mid-level colleges would love to attract students with generous financial aid and grants, many schools are in financial trouble and cannot afford it. They are more dependent on tuition than tax-funded public schools and elite universities with large endowments, making it harder to offer tuition relief to cash-strapped families.
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This lack of funds causes many small private colleges to question their viability. Some have managed to survive by merging with other institutions. Others have closed permanently, leaving current students scrambling to complete their degrees elsewhere. Each closure not only ends a school, but also prevents members of marginalized communities from improving their career prospects and financial situation.
Lincoln College, a predominantly black institution (a federal designation indicating that the student body is at least 40% black and at least 50% low-income or first-generation students), exemplifies this trend. . Many of his students saw Lincoln as a refuge from difficult situations at home and a unique chance to improve their career prospects. The college boasted record enrollment numbers in 2019, but financial strains resulting from COVID and exacerbated by a debilitating hacking incident forced the school to close in May. Some alumni have described the closure as a “betrayal” by headteachers and a setback for their future plans.
While higher education is seen as a popular path to advancement, Chicagoans realize that their children have other options, but those options need to improve. Nearly 9 in 10 (87%) residents want Chicago public schools to prioritize offering non-academic skills-based programs (e.g., life skills classes, technical training) to prepare students to life after high school. However, only 36% of area residents believe that Chicago children have access to all the resources (academic, financial or otherwise) they need to succeed.
As inflation and a possible recession threaten the pocketbooks of Chicagoans, families will have to decide where to direct their children for social and economic progress. If the trend of private college closures continues, focusing on high school skills-based programs may become more desirable, feasible, and even necessary. Alternatively, the federal government may need to increase aid to schools that serve minorities in response to their economic realities. Additional funding could prevent more private colleges from going bankrupt and help ensure that their students can earn a university degree.
Somehow, something – or someone – is going to have to give.
William Johnson is CEO of The Harris Poll, a global public opinion, market research and strategy firm.
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