The Rich are safe
“Don’t go north of 47th Street, south of 63rd Street, and west of Washington Park” I was told during my orientation period at the University of Chicago. Those geographical designators demarcate the boundaries where the University of Chicago’s private police force, the second largest in the world after the private police force in the Vatican, operates. Those geographical designators, moreover, are also the socio-economical designators of where elitist privilege ends, where acute poverty begins, and where education inequality commences.
Beyond those boundaries lies some of the most poverty stricken and crime ridden neighborhoods in Chicago’s south-side. Neighborhoods where in 2016 alone, 762 people were murdered and 4331 were shot. Since 2001, there have been more American citizens killed in Chicago than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
(The “Red Box” on the map above demarcates the area where the University of Chicago’s private police force operates. Each blue dots you observe on the map represents a shooting or homicide. Hyde Park, the neighbourhood housing the University of Chicago, is literally surrounded on all three sides (minus the lake) by neighbourhoods with very high shooting and homicide rates.)
University of Chicago – The Safe Haven
In Hyde Park, the privileged neighbourhood housing the University of Chicago and heavily protected by our privately funded police force, however, things are relatively calm and safe. The accumulation of knowledge by the students coming predominately from the upper class of America continues unabatedly under our thick protective cocoon of privilege.
Life is always nice and detached from the reality of existence in the Ivory Bubble of the University of Chicago, located in the heart of the crime ridden south side of Chicago. The bubble looking architecture is actually the library. Unnecessarily fancy right?
And this, my friend, is inequality. Inequality in the sense where the statistical chance of getting shot and murdered can be demarcated down to exact, precise, geographical coordinates. And in the most unfortunate sense, inequality has been the single most salient common denominator I have been able to draw from my experiences of studying in Hong Kong and Chicago.
Hong Kong and Chicago are both cities plagued by immense inequality, and their elitist education systems across the two cities are not helping.
Education, supposedly, should provide students from lower class family to obtain the knowledge and skills necessary to move ahead in life, alleviating the problem of education inequality. This line of reasoning, however, rides on the premise that the access to education is equal irrespective of your socio-economical class; that one’s possibility of taking on the identity of “a student” is equal and fair.
The unfortunate reality for students of both Hong Kong and Chicago is that this is simply not the case. One’s chance of gaining entrance into prestigious universities such as the University of Hong Kong and the University of Chicago, and thus a better chance of earning higher income and escaping poverty, is becoming increasingly statistically dependent on the wealth endowments of one’s family. Increasingly, fewer and fewer kids from poorer families are able to send their children to prestigious universities.
A recent research conducted by Professor Chou Kee Lee of the Hong Kong Institute of Education on the economic demographics ofuniversity enrolment rate in Hong Kong has found that “the university degree enrolment rate of young people (aged 19 and 20) living in the top 10% richest families (48.2%) is now 3.7 times that of those living in poverty (13%), a much wider gap than 20 years ago (1.2 times).” Results are summarized in the table below:
Disparity in Higher Education Attainment is Widening between Rich and Poor
|Household Income||Under Poverty Line2||Top 10% richest||Under Poverty Line||Top 10% richest|
|Enrolment in university degree programmes||8.0%||9.3%||13.0%||48.2%|
Statistically speaking, the chances of someone from Hong Kong getting into a local university is now 3.7 times higher if you are from the top 10% of the economic class of Hong Kong than if you are from the bottom 10%.
Similar research has also obtained similar unfortunate findings on the economic demographics of enrolment rate in Chicago. For example, the median family income of a student at the University of Chicago is USD $134,500 (~HKD $ 1,000,000), and over 58% of the students come from the top 20 percent of the economic class of USA.
In short, the richer the family you are born into, the higher the statistical chance of you getting into a prestigious university. And it is a trend which is increasingly getting worst, with serve ramifications for the struggling lower class families across both side of the Pacific; families who are struggling to send their kids to good universities in a bid to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.
(When you begin to set sail into your career after your graduation, don’t forget to take a moment to reflect on how lucky you are to have been given the opportunity to pursue higher education in the first place.)
 HKIEd Study: Disparity in Higher Education Attainment is Widening between Rich and Poor (Lee, 2013)
 Chicago Maroon News Article: Study Compares Universities in Combatting Inequality (He, 2016)