By Christopher Young, MPSA 2015

George HW Bush Statue.png

The George H.W. Bush statue, honoring the former US President and namesake of the Bush School. During his presidency, President Bush worked to increase federal spending for education, childcare, and advanced technology research.

With a good education, it is my belief that the American dream is still attainable. Unfortunately, far too many are born into dreadful economic conditions in which they lack access to good schools.

In recent weeks, President Obama has brought national attention to income inequality, which has a strong correlation with the level of education one has attained. President Obama has a ripe opportunity to include education inequality into his income inequality narrative.

Studies show that college graduates still earn a significantly higher income over a lifetime than those with just a high school education. Additionally, those with a college degree between the ages 25-34 earn $20,000 more than those without, according to a Gallup poll.

Debt, Tuition, Income

But, also according to Gallup, only 55% of students believe that college gives them an opportunity at acquiring a better job. In the same poll, 75% of American believe that college has become too expensive. Plus, CNN reports that the average student debt is $35,200, while wages for college graduates have dropped 5.4 percent over the last decade

Highlighting rising tuition costs, a Cornell study found that tuition at private colleges and universities has risen by approximately two to three percent over the last century.

Simultaneously, over the last fifty years, a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study found that the top 1 percent of households saw their income rise by approximately 275 percent between 1979 and 2007. In contrast, the 60% in the middle saw their incomes rise just slightly at an estimated 40 percent. Furthermore, the gap between wealthiest 1% and the remaining 99% is the widest it has been since the 1920s.

Social Immobility?

Resulting from this inequality, social mobility has stagnated in America.

Last week, a study showed that a child born today in the bottom fifth of the income distribution appears to have just as much chance reaching the top fifth in adulthood as a child born a generation earlier.

Additionally, a Pew study found that households headed by someone with at least a bachelor’s degree received approximately 50% of U.S. aggregate income. Between 1991 and 2012, those without a college degree received 15% less of national aggregate income.

Reform for Affordability

At the moment, too little attention is being paid to rising tuition costs and student debt levels. Furthermore, President Obama has a chance to gain bi-partisan support in an attempt to reform higher education. Potentially, higher education reform could lead to reduction in income inequality.

If America is to remain great, it cannot maintain higher education as a rich man’s luxury and a poor man’s burden. Through a renewed focus on making higher education affordable, it is possible that America can reduce its income inequality and provide social mobility once again.