As a student at the University of Georgia, I see the benefits of college first-hand. At their best, universities can be a hotbed for discussion and empower students with job skills that will be crucial in their future careers. However, in Georgia, the people who attend college are much different from the general population, tending to be much richer than the average person.
The low number of students from poverty hurts the University System of Georgia’s ability to promote social mobility and debate, locking some Georgians into a cycle of poverty. The state must address with programs that help impoverished students enroll in and afford college.
According to a New York Times analysis of anonymous tax records collected by Opportunity Insights, poor children are often severely underrepresented at Georgia’s top universities. For example, at UGA, the median family income for students is $129,800. This is more than double the U.S. Census Bureau’s estimate for the median household income of $52,977 in Georgia from 2013 to 2017 in 2017 dollars. Additionally, 59% of students are from the highest-earning 20% of the population, compared to only 3.8% who are from the bottom 20%.
Current state policies seem stacked against poor families. Scholarships like HOPE and Zell Miller should help students pay for college, but, given that USG students tend to be wealthy, the aid is going to those who need it least. Worse still, the funding for these scholarships comes from the lottery — a regressive method. According to a survey from Bankrate, 28% of lower-income households play the lottery at least once a week, whereas only 19% of households with higher earnings played the lottery. Furthermore, lower-income households spend $412 on lottery tickets every year, almost four times as much as the highest-earning households do.
This reeks of unfairness. The families who can afford the least are also paying for the education and subsequent higher-earnings of financially well-off students. This creates systemic poverty, making it difficult for lower-income students to achieve a better life.
The economic segregation hurts richer students as well. College is a chance for students to learn about new perspectives. For the first time in many students’ lives, they can live and bond with people from outside of their home communities. However, economic segregation robs students of these crucial interactions, sealing them in a bubble of students with similar life experiences.
College can be an agent for social mobility and bridging gaps between different communities. However, because of the current economic inequality in Georgia’s colleges, USG cannot fully achieve these goals. The state must increase its support for students from impoverished families to foster equality, increase social mobility and encourage the exchange of perspectives and experiences.
Correction: In a previous version of this article, the median family income for UGA students was said to be $129,000.This has since been corrected. The Red & Black regrets this error.