30 March 2008

The Duality of Access to Higher Education

What's the story with the United States' College Education System? In terms of socioeconomic justice, it's a mixed bag.

John Rawls' egalitarian Theory of Justice tells us that "all economic goods and services should be distributed equally except when an unequal distribution would work to everyone's advantage" (Ethical Theory and Business, 668). Thinking of Education as a primary good, or as a basic individual right, it appears to follow that John Rawls allows for unequal access to it.

Consider a recent high school graduate. Consider the same graduate as an excellent student from a low-income background, or alternatively a CEO's son or daughter who is a poor academic performer, or maybe an average student from a blue-collar family. What are the implications? Do each of these students have equal opportunity to pursue a quality college education?

Financial Aid is a hot topic for college students across the country; often it is the determining factor as to whether or not a prospective student will have access to a given institution. Is this a socioeconomic justice or disparity? Week Three's reading from Ethical Theory and Business touches on the idea of distributive justice and how its related systematic theories "attempt to elaborate how people should be compared and what it means to give people what they are due" (666). A few of the associated principles include "To each person according to individual need" and "To each person according to merit." This train of thought has a direct correlation to Financial Aid selection, and it is currently addressed by the two-tier Capitalistic Education System.

Capitalism itself does not ensure rights to Education. It encourages that "people's economic rights extend only to the acquisition and dispensation of private property" with disregard to "more substantive moral rights in the economic sphere" (670), including the level of Education demanded by today's job market. Theorists such as John Rawls realize that therein lies a conflict. While the individuals who have made significant economic contributions to society will be rewarded with profits and and an ability to more easily afford higher education for themselves and their families, the children of people who don't do as well financially will suffer. Ethical Theory of Business notes that "over the course of time in the working of capitalist markets, one group in society may gain considerable wealth and political influence, by comparison with other groups in society" (670). How many Yale or Harvard seats are already "reserved" for the children of alumni based simply on the financial ability to do so?

The two-tiered system of Educational Access previously mentioned is a mixed approach to providing high school graduates a socioeconomically-justified means of achieving the quality of life that is their birthright--not only as a United States American--but as a human being. The Business Ethics course text explains that "if people have a right to minimal material means...their rights are violated whenever economic distributions leave persons with less than that minimal level" (Ethical Theory and Business, 670). The first tier of our nation's College Education System bases the distribution of accessibility on NEED and the second tier on WANT ("better services" for purchase). On a controversial note, let's call these two tiers State Universities and Private Institutions--each of course with their own built-in systems for addressing social and economic justice...


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