Families Stuck In The Middle When It Comes To Higher Education

Increasingly, it seems as though higher education doesn’t have a place for people like me or my family. You see, we are the middle people. We are middle class, with three children.

Our kids do well in school. Still, they aren’t straight-A students, nor do they struggle in school. All three of our children, one already in college and two in high school, very much want to earn at least an undergraduate degree. They have goals in mind to improve their lives and know how to get there. They all are hard workers, responsible, engaged and enjoy their studies. Guess you’d say middle of the pack overall, though.

But in the realm of higher education, if you are “middle,” you are at the bottom.

Scholarships, grants and financial assistance abound for students who earn top grades. And rightfully so.

Scholarships, grants and financial assistance are available for students who face very tough socio-economic circumstances. And rightfully so.

I wouldn’t change a thing when it comes to assisting these two groups. But if I were higher education czar and not just a mom, I also would take a very careful look at how the lack of higher education funding as well as consistent tuition hikes are impacting families in the middle. Lately, it seems as though the goal is to either disenfranchise us out of the higher education system or just charge families so much for tuition that we soon will drop out of the “middle” and qualify for assistance. The welcome mat is just not out for people like us.

Our children were quite young when it became apparent that policymakers decided to reduce funding for higher education and shift the financial burden to families via tuition hikes. That trend continues today. As I write this, I await the latest news about an upcoming tuition increase.

Yes, I’ve seen the official response that higher education is still a good deal, but, honestly, my middle-class definition of affordability differs from those sitting on our university boards of governors and trustees. We saved for our children’s education, but annual tuition increases passed on to families will eclipse our savings. We are stuck in the middle, making enough money not to qualify for assistance yet not enough to absorb rising tuition bills without taking a major financial hit.

All this might sound like the rantings of one mother. But if higher education loses the “middle,” particularly at land-grant institutions that were built on foundations of educational access, then what happens to our collective future? Shouldn’t higher education be available to all who value it and those who will work hard to attain it, regardless of their family’s financial standing? Doesn’t a well-educated population benefit entire communities by increasing access to jobs and overall economic prosperity? Shouldn’t our higher education system reflect contributions from all demographics?

I’m not an intellectual like those at the universities and those at the Statehouse or the U.S. Capitol. Nor do I have the answers when it comes to public investment in higher education. I’m just seeking some middle ground for the middle class.

Kathleen Duff is the Coloradoan Living Local editor. She can be reached at KathleenDuff@Coloradoan.com or follow her at Twitter@Familywriter.


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