Working with a group of colleagues last summer who had been first generation college students, we were a ways into our first conversation when someone asked “is it ok to talk about the anger?”
It felt as if everyone relaxed a bit after that point. There are many “feel good” first generation stories, and those certainly need to be told. Yet there is also the anger — at the hidden rules, the patronizing, the casual privilege all around, the invisibility, the hunger, the arrogance, the nonsense that sometimes passes for wisdom.
So I’m grateful that Jocelyne Cardona speaks of the whole experience in this piece from the Macalester College newsletter. It’s worth reading the whole thing. A taste:
“How are they going to fit in the flow, in the stream of things and not get totally consumed or washed away in that process,” McClure asks. “What capital do [first-generation students] bring to the table that is going to contribute to a broader story?”
For Cardona, on a practical level, this openness has been hard to come by – especially in the classroom.
In her assignments for class, Cardona slips in sentences of Spanish, refusing to italicize this language that she feels belongs in her writing. She sometimes works poetry into her academic papers. She writes essays addressed to her professors about the production of knowledge and value of different kinds of input.
But the confidence to assert her own experience and knowledge in the classroom setting did not come immediately. For years, Cardona was alienated, forced to question her own capacity to succeed.
“I felt like I couldn’t say what I wanted to say. I felt dumb. I felt like I was not smart,” she said. “I felt like what these people were saying was way over my head. And certain professors made me feel that way.”
Refreshing, rare, and much needed. Open conversation about class at Northwestern University.
I just finished reading Laura Hamilton’s article More is More or More is Less: Parental Financial Investments During College (published behind academic firewalls in American Sociological Review, Vol, 78, 2012).
Introducing her study, she writes:
Because parental aid increases access to college, students with parental assistance will likely display a wider range of ability and motivation. In contrast, students who make it to college with little to no parental help may not only be exceptionally talented but also uniquely motivated — for which there is no good empirical proxy.
She found, indeed, that students receiving more money from their parents while in college are more likely finish their degree but also more likely to have lower GPAs than other students.
I think that this is such a smart study because:
- It questions the long-standing assumption that generous parenting is inherently good for students.
- It concedes that upper-middle class ways of being are not the model for all other students. Working, for example, may actually contribute to students’ investment in higher ed.
- It puts all the fuss about things like SAT exams into context. The SAT is a low predictor of eventual success in college for many populations, yet many colleges continue to require entrance exams. If the amount of financial support that students get will get from parents does predict eventual GPA, might admissions preferences not then be given to those students who will *not* be supported as generously by parents, if the goal of admissions is to admit those most likely to succeed?
Researchers invest a great deal of time studying those on the margins of formal schooling. It is good to also see studies looking more closely at those considered to be the norm.
Though it’s impossible for me (or for aspiring high school students, for that matter) to find basic information on-line about exactly who qualifies for Pell Grants, eligibility is a proxy for relatively low family income.
That said, it appears that students educated at top US News rated schools enroll relatively few lower-income students, meaning that the students who do spend four years there learning about politics, citizenship, world crises, economics, business practices, how to teach other people’s children, law, health, history, the ethics of scientific research or literature do so without the opportunity for routine encounters with others who might challenge their interpretation of the world from a place of relative economic security.
The article on Pell Grant recipients at these schools is here.
It is not unusual in my program for students who can’t find jobs after finishing their degrees to come back for a Masters, thinking that extra credentials might make them more marketable. I nod and smile and encourage them, all the while worrying that the American Dream of success through education is going to fail them.
I thought of them today: This new data on growing debt for graduate school is daunting.
Yet what are their options, having done everything according to the book yet still unable to find their footing?
The full article is here.