Notre Dame is an Ivy League school

America's universities ensnare the middle class

A year ago Kyle Black would not have dared even in his wild dreams to think of studying at Emory University in Atlanta. In relevant studies, the private university ranks among the 20 best universities in the USA - and charges correspondingly high tuition fees. Kyle, an 18-year-old black man from Jonesboro, Georgia, can't afford the $ 44,800 a year. His single mother is unemployed, and Kyle has a twin brother and a five-year-old sister.

Kyle actually wanted to enroll at the University of Georgia, which, like most state universities, charges significantly lower fees than its private competitors. In fact, he is studying marketing - in Emory. Sometimes, he says, "it seems totally unreal to me that I'm here". He is one of the first students to benefit from Emory Advantage, a program that the private elite university aims to provide access to high-quality basic academic education for students from needy homes and middle-class families.

With the funding program, announced in January 2007 and in effect since the fall semester, Emory is following a trend. More and more US universities are setting up funding programs - not just for children of low-income earners, but recently even for offspring from well-off families. In doing so, you are particularly accommodating to those critics who denounce that rich students at the US elite universities essentially keep to themselves.

Just recently, Harvard University announced that it would be expanding financial support for students to include middle-class families. Other so-called Ivy League schools such as Columbia, Cornell, Princeton, Yale, or the University of Pennsylvania have taken similar steps, as have the Edelunis Amherst, Berkeley, Notre Dame, Stanford and Wesleyan. The support programs cover the basic course up to the Bachelor's degree, which usually lasts four years.

"The topic has been moving American universities for years," says Daniel Walls, Vice Chancellor of Emory University and responsible for the Advantage program. "It's about ensuring access to equal opportunities, creating diversity, especially economic diversity. We want to bring the best students to Emory, and they're not always just those whose daddies have the thickest wallet."

In fact, the elite American universities have been populated mostly by wealthy students in recent years. A study by the Century Foundation in New York found that 74 percent of students in the 146 most select colleges in the United States come from the top income district.

Elite universities have had funding programs for students from poor families for a long time. Harvard, the richest university in the United States with an endowment of $ 35 billion, responded to public pressure three years ago and has since waived tuition fees for students whose families have an annual income of less than $ 60,000. However, every student, whether rich or poor, has to overcome high hurdles before admission to the universities: Requirements for admission include excellent high school certificates, written and oral entrance tests, job interviews and letters of recommendation.

Kyle Black has always been a good and ambitious student. Emory has paid for his four-year bachelor's degree because his mother makes less than $ 50,000 a year. This covers the majority of the tuition fees, the accommodation in the student dormitory and the teaching material. Kyle still has to make a contribution of about $ 1,500 the first and $ 2,200 each of the following three years, but he can do that "very well with a vacation job."

The universities are not only concerned with supporting students in need for image reasons. Recently, America's elite universities have been concerned above all about the future of the middle class. The decline of the bourgeoisie is seen as a general problem in American society, not just in universities. The impending collapse of the middle class is a hotly debated issue in the election campaign. In fact, it is above all the middle class that is suffering from the crisis in the real estate market and is groaning under huge debts. "War on the Middle Class" is the title of a book published by the popular CNN presenter Lou Dobbs in 2006 and which is high on the American bestseller lists.

"We are all aware of the increasing pressure on the middle class," said Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust in December when presenting the new program, which is aimed primarily at families with an annual income of up to 180,000 dollars. In future, they will only have to pay fees equal to ten percent of their annual income - for a family with an income of $ 120,000 that would be tuition fees of $ 12,000. Normally $ 46,000 would be due.

Emory also wants to support students from middle-class families with its Advantage program: For families with an income between $ 50,000 and $ 100,000, the university limits the cost of studying to $ 15,000 per year, and Emory takes care of the rest. "These families earn too much to qualify for most scholarship programs, but you still often have to go into heavy debt to pay for a degree, "said Emory President James W. Wagner. "That's absurd."

American household debt - from credit card debt to auto and home repair loans to college loans for kids - currently stands at around $ 2.4 trillion. The shock wave of the real estate crisis has also contributed to the fact that the universities as well as the economy fear a slide of the efficient middle class - and are now counteracting with all their might.

Meanwhile, Kyle Black is simply delighted to be able to study in the fine east of Atlanta on the Emory campus, which was once donated by Coca-Cola boss Asa Candler. Kyle may just be a freshman at university, a freshman in college, but he's already thinking of getting his master's degree after graduating with a bachelor's degree.