Michael Crow and William Dabars of Arizona State University have written a book outlining a model of a more equitable higher education system in the U.S. : https://issues.org/the-emergence-of-the-fifth-wave-in-american-higher-education.
Their argument is put this way:
“Granting increasingly exclusive status to the privileged few guarantees that the interests and agendas of elite universities will drift farther from the needs of most citizens. To strengthen the public purpose of higher education, it will be necessary to leverage the synergies between access and excellence, thereby empowering the nation’s research-grade universities to advance discovery and innovation that contribute to broadly distributed prosperity and societal well-being.”
They make the point that following the recession of 2008, “… many of the students who would most benefit from this most obvious avenue of upward mobility (i.e. obtaining a college degree)—those typically categorized as socioeconomically disadvantaged or historically underrepresented—cannot gain admission to research-grade universities, even as deindustrialization and
other structural features of the economy contribute to ever
greater economic inequity.”
Their new book, The Fifth Wave, takes on what we all know is true about American higher education. That it is fundamentally structured to provide a first-class education to an elite few in our society. Efforts by top-tier institutions to enroll low-income and minority students are not making any headway at democratizing access to degrees which will change the socio-economic status for anywhere near a majority of these students.
Crow and Dabars put it this way: “Educating students who graduate in the top 5% or 10% of their high school classes is business as usual at most leading colleges and universities. The Fifth Wave aims to educate to internationally competitive levels of achievement the top quarter or third of all 18- to 24-year olds, and through universal learning frameworks to provide opportunities for lifelong learning to more than half the population of the United States.”
Their vision really comes, I think, at a good moment as we are all struggling to see beyond the horizon of this pandemic and come to terms with what the future will looks like.