Higher Education: Privilege or Right?

Higher Education: Privilege or Right?

“Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages”. [1] This is the opening statement of 26th article in the United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights. The American education system has a world-dominating position and has been one of the frontrunners of public basic education as we know it today. The system fulfils the intention of this right.

Furthermore, the 26th article states that “higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit”. The objective is that access to higher education[2] should be based only on the qualities of the applicants. Thus, the striking question to ask is whether higher education in America is a privilege or a right?

To give a more detailed answer to this question and argue for either attitude the synopsis includes the following aspects of the issue: education as a privilege or right historically; the effects of the social heritage; and the influence of economy.

From Settlers to Veterans
Basic education has historically been a right to the American people. A fundamental idea of the American society is that democracy requires an educated citizenry at least at a basic level.   Public education is a great equalizer that gives every man a chance to rise in society[3] and in contrast to other nations America was early to be educating the masses.[4] The aim of the non-selective system is to provide equal opportunities for everyone.[5]

However, higher education still seemed a luxury and a privilege for the average American at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1944 Congress passed the so-called ‘GI-Bill’[6] which made it possible for WWII veterans to get a higher education free of charge. As many as 7.8 million WWII veterans used this opportunity offer by society[7] and as more and more students experienced equal access to colleges and universities the attitude towards higher education...