The Crisis in Higher Education: Liz Willen

August 23, 2019

“We have a college completion crisis and access crisis in this country.”

Liz Willen is the Editor in Chief of the Hechinger Report, an independent, nonprofit, and award-winning newsroom that covers inequality and innovation in education. We discuss who is attending and completing college, who is not, and why higher education must be more widely accessible to all Americans.

Education Inequity

There is a college completion crisis and access crisis in America: black adults are only two thirds as likely to hold college degrees as whites, and the highest achieving students from the wealthiest families are three times as likely to enroll in a highly selective college as similar students from poor families. Low achievers from high income families have a higher chance of graduating from college than high achieving students from low income families.

Community College

Community colleges provide real opportunities for upward mobility that elite colleges don’t. They offer an affordable education, welcome students with open arms regardless of economic background, and are working on transfer agreements to top-notch schools, including to Ivy League universities. More than half of American students attend community colleges. Even with a sizable financial aid package, elite colleges are still very expensive to attend, and low-income families cannot afford to pay the difference. Tuition alone at elite colleges can cost $50,000 or more, whereas community college tuition in New York State costs $5,000 on average.

S.A.T.

The recent college admissions scandal fully exposed how far wealthy parents will go to ensure their children a spot in an elite college, including cheating on standardized tests. There is a strong correlation between high test scores and high-income families, as they can afford test tutoring to improve scores. The College Board just announced that it would include an adversity score going forward, which would level the playing field. While this might make sense in the near term, it does not address the larger issues with inadequate access to high quality education before college.

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Liz Willen, a longtime education reporter, has been proud to lead the award-winning staff of The Hechinger Report since 2011. Liz got her start in newspapers as feature editor of Northport High School’s “The Rag,” in Northport, New York and worked at an array of New England newspapers before covering New York City public schools for New York Newsday. 

She’s a graduate of Tufts University and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and a board member for the Spencer Education Fellowships at Columbia. Liz is a sought-after moderator at education conferences and events, has been an active New York City public school parent and recipient of the “Above and Beyond,” award by the media company City & State for exemplary leadership. She was recently honored for commentary writing by the New York Press Club. 

In the interview, Liz referenced the Jack Kent Cooke FoundationThe Privileged Poor by Anthony Abraham Jack, and the documentary Personal Statement.

Follow Liz Willen on Twitter @L_Willen and The Hechinger Report @hechingerreport.