Let’s talk equality of opportunity for a moment

With the issue of income inequality poised to play a significant role in the 2012 election, let’s talk about the  rhetoric that’s flying around.  Republicans like to talk about how the policies of Democrats and President Obama would create “equality of outcomes”, while Republicans wish to create “equality of opportunity”.  And, in fact, the implication has been from many Republicans, that “equality of opportunity” already exists.  Like Mitt Romney, for instance:

“It would be popular for me to stand up and say I’m going to give you government money to pay for your college, but I’m not going to promise that,” he said, to sustained applause from the crowd at a high-tech metals assembly factory here. “Don’t just go to one that has the highest price. Go to one that has a little lower price where you can get a good education. And hopefully you’ll find that. And don’t expect the government to forgive the debt that you take on.”

Does equality of opportunity exist?  Well, that’s highly questionable.  Look, for instance, at the higher-education situation:

What this data is shows is the percentage of students completing a four-year degree broken down by their test scores in eighth grade and their income levels.  What it shows is that low-income (bottom 25%) students with high test scores (top 25%) have basically the same probability of graduating college as high income (top 25%) students with low test scores (bottom 25%).  

We’re not strictly dealing with a meritocracy here, are we?

Rhetorically, I completely agree with the notion of “equality of opportunity” as being preferable to “equality of outcomes”.   Let’s not delude ourselves, though, into thinking that equality of opportunity exists.  It doesn’t.  This isn’t the time to cut vital programs (like Pell Grants) that help low-income students climb the ladder.  This isn’t the time to continue to squeeze our public schools and subject them to budget games on a yearly basis.  This isn’t the time to pull up the ladder and tell everyone at the bottom of the scale, “you’re on your own”.


11 Responses to “Let’s talk equality of opportunity for a moment”

  1. College isn’t for everyone. I have 6 nieces and nephews who’ve gone off to college in the past two years. All come from middle income families. All had high high school GPA’s. 3 are still in and doing well. 3 were put on academicsuspension, and have since dropped out. One of them is now in a trade school.

    All of them had the opportunity.

    I came from a family of 5 who were in the lowest bracket. All 5 had high GPA’s. 4 of the 5 went to college. The other went to a trade school. The trade school graduate makes the most money.

    This graph oversimplifies the realties.

    • No, college isn’t for everyone. But being competitive in the global economy going forward means that we need to make sure that people who have the capability to go to college and who want to go to college get that opportunity. When there’s such a huge gap in access between rich and poor, we’re missing out as a society on that potential.

      • The thing is, everyone HAS access. Some just want it for free. ANyone can get a student loan that needs one. That’s how everyone I know does it. Our son chose a different route. He wanted to go to an expensive school. He’s joining the Air Force Reserves, and getting ALL of his college paid for.

        My neighbor across the street isn’t wealthy, and their daughter received scholarships as a first class student to go to So Cal. It’s expensive. Extremely expensive. The problem is that higher education costs are through the roof, and fewer people want to get that far into debt before they even have a job. If our son hadn’t joined the AFR, he’d be $120K in debt before he ever graduated.

        • If access isn’t an issue, then you wouldn’t expect to see such wide variations between income levels.

  2. One could make the judgement that successful people breed successful children.

    • Breed? That has to be the worst choice of words I’ve ever seen. If that were the case, you wouldn’t have anyone in the low test score range from the high income bracket.

      The first president elected from the Republican Party is a direct contradiction of your argument. Lincoln came from poverty, and rose to lead the nation.

      As I watch the GOP primaries drag on, I’m reminded that there are those who believe that money buys success in America. In all honesty, if Romney had the same spending limitations as his opponents, Santorum would be on his way to being the nominee. There is great value in the unexpected success story, and a great return on the investment society makes to foster that success. It is unfortunate that the Republican Party has forgotten the lessons of Lincoln.

      • Raise, breed, create, rear. Use the words you want. I should have said “tend to raise” perhaps. And Abe isn’t contradiction of my argument at all. I came from poverty, and am now in the top 5%. I never stated that from proverty comes poverty. It’s jsut that successful people tend to be respsonsible people. That’s not to say that the poor are all irresponsible. My parents just happened to come from even worse poverty, and learned lessons from it. They did the best they could do to keep us on a good path so that we would be successsful. Thankfully, all 5 of their children have gone on to be successful.

  3. I wonder why they chose eighth grade test scores? Why not act/sat scores?

    • Because eighth-graders can’t drop out of school. There’s multiple factors at work, here, obviously. Students from poorer families tend to drop out of high school at higher levels than students from wealthier families and it’s harder for students from poorer families to get access to the higher education system. Not to mention other societal factors.

      • Actually, it’s easier than ever to get financial backing to go to college. You can serve, like our son is doing. Or you can get loans through FAFSA applications. My family brothers and sister did it, and we were poor. The only I’m aware of, where the loan process becomes difficult, is if the parents make too much money. then they are expected to pay for their children’s college, which isn’t always a great way to go. I’m a big fan of kids paying for their own higher education’s as we did. Expecting parents to shell out $100K or more for their children’s education adds up pretty quick, when you have more than one in college. That’s where the real problem lies. I know some kids who just aren’t willing to graduate being that far in the whole, and parent who are only willing to give up so much of their retirement. they pick cheaper schools or other routes. You’ll see more of this if the prices keep going up faster than incomes are goign up.

  4. Some real equal opportunity took place at the capital today. Right to work moves forward. Yeah, everyone!

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