Since the birth of academia, higher education has been a gateway to opportunity. With a little hard work, some passion and vision for the future, American’s could live a happy and secure life if they put in the effort to obtain their degree.
However, those times seem to be on a steep decline. A recent study from the American Association for the Advancement of Science shows upward mobility going in reverse, meaning it’s tougher for kids to do better than their parents financially.
The graph above shows upward mobility in the 1940’s was at 90 percent but is now down to 50 percent as of 1984, creating a large split in the achievement gap. Researchers are finding these high levels of disparity are occurring for two reasons, the lack of increase in GDP and higher levels of income inequality.
St. Cloud State University Interim President Ashish Vaidya says this is “the fading of the American Dream” and that it’s happening across all income levels, but primarily the middle class and other ethnic groups, which is the demographic that makes up most of the U.S.
“It’s not simply going to be enough for our economy to grow to solve the problem,” he said. ” We need a much more equitable distribution of that growth. People in the middle class and lower class need to benefit from that economic growth.”
Vaidya and the state of Minnesota, are making an effort to tackle economic disparity in higher education, setting goals and standards to reach by the next decade, but the task isn’t an easy one.
With the cost of college increasing while wages are staggering, more and more families are finding themselves unable to afford going to college. The state wants 70 percent of the population, comprised of all races, income levels and backgrounds to have some form of degree and earn enough to support their families by 2025, but it’s a lofty goal. These target objectives were set in place back in 2015, giving them 10 years to set their eyes on the prize.
For SCSU, President Vaidya says he wants to challenge the campus to double the number of students graduating each year. In 2016, at least 3000 people walked out of the University with a diploma, but out of the total number of students who attend the University, the average graduation rate per year is 46.3 percent as of 2014. Vaidya says the University prides itself on taking in many students who would have otherwise not been accepted into a 4-year institution, but that some of them still struggle.
The main issue behind low graduation rates at is due to the lack of support for first generation college students, particularly, those of Hispanic, African American and Native American descent.
A large percentage of these ethnic groups don’t do attend post secondary education, but those that do face higher dropout rates if the University doesn’t have the right resources to support them.
Vaidya says while college is rewarding, students face hurdles and setbacks along the way and a large portion of those backgrounds don’t know how to handle them.
“The belonging mindset is very powerful,” he said. “It’s this notion that students must feel that they belong and that we will help them proceed. We are not going to compromise on quality, but we want to make sure we provide the right support services for them.”
Vaidya also mentions it’s the little things that count, he says in order to help those in need, they also need to assist themselves. That includes getting the right amount of financial aid, taking a full credit load, getting involved on campus and in the community. He says all of these things can help lead to student success.
With eight years left for the state and SCSU to reach their desired outcomes, the journey is long from over.