When we think of discrimination in the college admissions process, we typically think about the ongoing debate on affirmative action, or even perhaps of religious schools and their treatment of LGBT youth. But what we don't think of are the many low-income students who cannot afford their education, and who are sometimes denied an education because of this.
No one chooses what family they're born into, and some are luckier than others when it comes to the financial aspects of higher education. Some schools have committed to being need-blind, meaning that they cannot take a student's financial situation into account when deciding which students to admit.
However, need-blind has been traded up in recent years in favor of "need-aware" policies. This is an awareness that a school should not discriminate against a student on their family income level, but it doesn't mean that they don't take student income into account. George Washington University came under fire a few years back when the student paper ran a story detailing the university's hypocrisy when it comes to being "need-blind".
The paper found that though the University allowed low-income students to the second round, and hundreds were wait listed because the University was concerned that they wouldn't be able to pay the tuition. George Washington has since amended their policy to a "need-aware" policy.
Though the New York Times reports that student loan debt averages around $30,000, many low-income students owe much more than that. When you take into account the students whose parents pay part of or all of the price of schooling, then you're left with the silent group of students who have had to finance their entire education themselves.
We need schools who will actively seek out and help low-income students. The call for income-based affirmative action has been stronger in recent years due to the perceived controversy of other affirmative-action methods. It wouldn't hurt to keep the old and usher in the new. Race based affirmative action has had a very positive effect on campus diversity, yet only about 17% of college graduates are low-income students, according to the Atlantic.
Income-inequality goes deeper than being able to pay for college. It affects the quality of education, ability to find employment and mental and physical health. Income-inequality controls your social circles and who will be willing to take you seriously. Ultimately, the ability to spark change lies in the hands of wealthier students because wealthy students are able to influence campus politics through donation revenue.
The Wall Street Journal reports that colleges often bend the rules to admit wealthier students. It's been reported that first daughter Ivanka Trump's husband, Jared Kushner, was given admission to Harvard based on a donation that his wealthy father made. Colleges even acknowledge giving preference to wealthy students according to Time Magazine.
Low-income students don't have a voice, but many students do. If you're attending a school, make sure you question their financial aid policy. For low-income students, a little bit of pressure from peers can go a long way.