Stories of Being First

This blog has been neglected for too long  as I’ve been pulled into too many other things.

But one of the things I’m most proud of (and in which I’ve invested the most time) is the launch of the First in Our Families Digital Storytelling Project.  With my project partner Class Action , I’ve been doing workshops around the country, inviting students (and sometimes, faculty and staff) to craft a story of Being First.

Last weekend, I worked with graduate students from across the three campuses of the University of Washington, and the stories that they chose to make public are now on the project site.

I invite you to browse, listen, and learn from these students.

Here is a just one of the powerful stories:

Right Before Her Eyes from First In Our Families on Vimeo.

I’m forever grateful for the crowdfunding that made this project possible.  Check out the website for more about this project, and let me know if you’re interested in workshop at your campus.

Invisible Students in Policy Discussions

Good data how, in spite of how often we hear about “going away to school” and the importance of choosing the right college, most poor and working -class attend college within 50 miles of home.

“The conversation pretty much ends with, ‘Hey, get better information in the hands of students,’” Hillman said. “But the way that prospective students use information is very different depending on what kinds of students you’re looking at.”
The crux of the problem is a misalignment of expectations: from policy makers’ perspective, students would attend college at whatever institution is best for them. But for some students, location is nonnegotiable — and often, that means their options are dramatically limited.
For upper-class students, having more information might help; they have the flexibility to travel, and they can afford to shop around. But it isn’t enough for working-class students, who may need to choose from the options available nearby.
“Most of the conversations today overlooks the working-class student and prioritizes the upper-class student,” Hillman said. “It’s just really frustrating from the academic side — and even more frustrating from a policy angle.

via When students enroll in college, geography matters more than policy makers think.

Income Inequality and College Endowments


Wealthy individuals, shaping the resources available to the most elite colleges, challenging the capacities of other higher education institutions to level playing fields through education.

We talk often in my classes of the work of creating equal opportunity when “equity” is always a moving target.

Even so, a small and exclusive coterie of institutions is disproportionately benefiting from donors’ largesse. The top 17 colleges and universities — less than 1 percent of the total universe of about 3,900 institutions — accounted for more than a quarter of the contributions, $10.42 billion. And 60 colleges and universities, under 2 percent of all institutions, received $20.15 billion, half of the total.
The wealth gap in higher education is not a new story, by any means, but it is being fed, not closed, by the behavior of major donors.

via Giving to colleges hits another record high; wealthy institutions get the most.

Low Income Students and College Completion

From Yesterday’s DC Summit on College Access:

 “Just because a school is wealthy and prestigious doesn’t mean they’ll do a good job with a low-income student,” says McGuire.

And just because hundreds of college leaders pledge to improve college completion rates doesn’t mean it will be easy to move the needle.

The issues that get between students and college degrees have never been more complex or expensive to resolve.

via Colleges pledge to graduate more low-income students |

For those of us working in colleges, we have a realistic fear that the focus on “big data” around  “on-time completion rates” means that we’ll be expected to collect and report less than useful “accountability” data rather than having more time to invest in mentoring, teaching, advising, and working with high school students to prepare them for college.

But there’s another elephant in this room around “on-time completion rates”: nearly all the students on my campus work many many hours and still take out loans to finish school.  Besides work cutting the time they have for classes each week, exhausted students hit the wall, get sick, and decide that they have to leave for at least a time.

“Complex and expensive” indeed.

But not rocket science.

Excellent Work on First Generation Issues

For readers interested in First Generation students and the challenges they face on campus (and beyond), I highly recommend Lynda Lopez’s First Generation Students blog and Twitter feed.

Lynda was active in starting national and campus “Class Confessions” conversations around socioeconomic issues while an undergraduate at the University of Chicago and in advocating for First Generation and Low Income students at U of C.

I posted her Class Action essay on 10 Most Classist Things About College on my campus’s Equity and Inclusion Facebook page and it was shared widely across departments.

I don’t know anyone more knowledgable about how First Generation students are faring at elite colleges around the country.  I’ve learned a ton from her.

You’ll learn a lot from her, too.