Plan to bolster financial aid is necessary

It is no secret that the United States is facing a great number of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. With the economy in the tank, a growing national deficit and a health care system more or less in flux, a huge problem in the country’s educational sector is going largely unnoticed.

In universities across the country, enrollment rates continue to grow as the iGeneration rides out the last wave of the echo boom; but while there is no shortage of applicants, the percentage of graduates is dipping rapidly. According to a New York Times article titled “Colleges are failing at graduation rates,” only half of all students who enroll in public universities graduate, making the United States second to only Italy in wealthy countries with poor follow-through.

Cheaper universities traditionally have lower graduation rates than more expensive ones. Inevitably, the elephant in the classroom emerges: Is a student’s wealth directly linked to his chances of wearing a mortarboard?

Ultimately, not really. However, William Bowen points out in his book, “Crossing the Finish Line,” that lower-income students are more likely to attend less-expensive universities, ones which do not place as strong an emphasis on graduating their students and cannot provide all the necessary resources for keeping them. (For example, availability of on-campus housing has been linked to higher graduation rates.)

In this way, the disparity between the higher and lower-income students continues to grow rapidly, helped along by the strains of the recession.

Schools like USC attempt to combat this gap by promising to meet any student’s designated need, and according to the USC Financial Aid website, 60 percent of students receive some sort of aid package. But boosting financial aid is not as feasible a possibility for universities (public or private) with smaller endowments, or for those whose endowments have been hit hard by the economic downturn.

Ultimately, it is the government’s job to intervene and President Barack Obama has already made steps in this direction. In mid-July he announced a $12 billion proposal to supplement public universities’ financial aid endowments, $2.5 billion of which would go toward vamping up the facilities at national community colleges.

Opponents of the plan point to the nation’s 9.5 percent unemployment rate and the rising national debt, though Obama said he plans to reallocate money from subsidies to college loan companies and banks.

In the melee of national crises, it’s easy to lambast a plan that doles out billions of dollars in subsidies. The fact remains, however, that bolstering education now is a good way to shorten the gap between economic classes and ensure for a financially viable future.

Education might not be an issue that involves death, sex or mortgage, but it is one that should be at the forefront of our attention. Obama’s bill is an important and necessary step in improving the educational system, and should be regarded as more than just pomp and circumstance.

Lucy Mueller is the Daily Trojan’s editorial director and a junior majoring in cinema-television production.