Social Pain and For-Profit Colleges

Blogger and scholar Tressie McMillan Cottom is writing about her work as an “admissions” counselor  at a for-profit university and subsequent research on the reasons that [primarily low-income] students are drawn to such expensive yet low-status places.  She writes that as she now asks students at her elite college whey they did not enroll at one of the many for-profits that they know about from TV ads and billboards, and they respond straightforwardly:  “That ‘s not a school for people like them.”.

Similarly, those attending the for-profits have internalized a sense of where they belong:

For-profit students are similarly hesitant during interviews when I ask them to discuss the milieu in which their educational choices were made. Even when fiercely proud of their education — and many of them are — there is a point of anger for many when asked to explain why a for-profit and not an area traditional college.

There is a sense, often unarticulated until I start prodding, that they made the best choice available to them.

Cottom frames the admissions decisions within deeper structural stratification, and despite the many ads for non-profits showing confident, aspiring young people nodding sagely at their computer screens or books, she finds that decisions to attend for-profits are embedded in pain of living at the bottom rungs of unequal social structures:

But the greatest correspondence between my data and the for-profit sector’s growth, admissions and matriculation processes is with the weakness in the economy. One finding jumps out immediately: more than educational aspiration and personal edification, fear and insecurity motivates the for-profit students I am interviewing.

This is brilliant and important work that I’ll be following.

First Generation Students

Inside Higher Education just published this interesting essay on how colleges might better service First Generation Students.

I deeply appreciate the attention on the complex journey of being “First”.  I appreciate the acknowledgement that first generation students are survivors.

Yet I struggle with the sense that  “survivor” implies victimhood.  Or perhaps, I struggle with how we can generate conversation about the challenges (clearly, often created by policies and practices that work against the interests of these students ) as well as the many strengths that First Generation students bring to our classrooms.

And I’d welcome more attention on the positive work ethic, the straightforwardness, the resiliency and the many other positive attributes of many First-Generation students, as these are things that all students (and their faculty) would do well to emulate.

I’ll be ordering the book today.   Does anyone want to read it together (virtually)?



Will My Colleagues Judge Me?

Home  sick, I’ve been clicking around  the web and came upon this post on Corporette, a blog read by thousands of young women seeking advice about clothing and etiquette in the corporate workplace — in other words, they come to this site for coaching in middle- class based norms of dress and behavior in professional settings.

This post made me sit up straighter.  Rather than asking about maintaining fashion sense in footwear even on snowy days (the more common sort of conversation on this site),  one young woman, an aspiring law student identifying herself as being from a poor background, asked this:

My fiance is a mechanic – he loves his career and would not change it for the world, however, I am worried – will my colleagues judge me because of this?

And the author of blog, and  202 commentors  (to date) weighed in.   What unfolds is a fascinating discourse on class and education, though it’s rarely named as such.
The owner of the blog first weighs in with classic blue-collar stereotypes (on which she’s called by several commentors):
Can he make dinner conversation with people on “educated” topics? On a more basic level, are his table manners and his grammar good (or is he open to improving them)?
In the discussion that follows,  a number of lawyers mention that they never encounter any working-class people in their work lives.    Many lawyers frame the issue personally — lawyers are by nature “self-absorbed” so they’d either not notice others or would possibly, as individuals, be snobs.  Others tell tales of working-class partners who behave in professional settings.   Only a few mention that many highly educated lawyers are lousy conversationalists and slobs at the table.
And there are stories here of other women who have experienced exactly the kinds of judgments that the questioner feared.
As is usually the case with blogs that generate this much response, nothing is resolved, but I’m fascinated that a young woman with high aspirations (and apparently, the accomplishments to justify them) knows, at this juncture in which she’ll take the next step into daily interaction with those from class backgrounds much higher than her own, that class matters in ways that her new colleagues may never understand.
The comments are worth the read.
What catches your eye in this complex conversation?


From an article from today’s NYT that has come to my inbox from multiple sources today:

The admissions team at Reed College, known for its free-spirited students, learned in March that the prospective freshman class it had so carefully composed after weeks of reviewing essays, scores and recommendations was unworkable. Money was the problem. Too many of the students needed financial aid, and the school did not have enough. So the director of financial aid gave the team another task: drop more than 100 needy students before sending out acceptances, and substitute those who could pay full freight.

Over 100 kids who would otherwise have been denied, admitted because of thier family income.  And over 100 kids who played by all the rules, got admitted to their “reach” school, and were  then were sent away.

So, if you’re mentoring kids who will be high school seniors next year, what do you tell them?  To reach and dream big or to be “realistic”?

As my favorite social philosopher B. Springsteen once asked,

is a dream a lie that don’t come true, or is it something worse?

Tuesdays at 11:00

For weeks now, I’ve been doing — and too seldom writing about — Education and Class.

Every Tuesday at 11:00, I gather with a group of remarkable students who, next week, will begin mentoring  low-income/first generation high school juniors through the college application process.  I am their faculty adviser, and the instructor of record for the course in which they are all enrolled.

It’s been quite a ride.

Based on a program initiated four years ago on our flagship campus,  The Dream Project is student led. Students plan and lead the class sessions, arrange for speakers, make the  initial and follow-up contacts with the high schools, navigate campus bureaucracies to get things done like printing and banking, and — because this is a program to add, not dilute resources —  do fund raising.

The program has an explicit dual-focus:  Our university students will learn more about education and social mobility, college access and educational inequalities.  And high school students will learn more about writing powerful essays, finding scholarships, and aiming for colleges that they might not otherwise have considered.

Gathering on Tuesdays at 11:00 are single moms, returning students, a woman who waitresses until  2:00 every morning and a man who works the night shift in a hospital every night.  There are immigrants from Taiwan and the Middle-East, and a young woman who grew up in a refugee camp in Thailand.  There are freshman and seniors, and they’ve accomplished a great deal in these past weeks.

We now have an official university account.  We have very cool T-shirts that they all wore on Inauguration Day, newly conscious that day that they were part of something much bigger than a local campus project. We hosted a festive campus “roll out” where administrators sang their praises.  We’ve learned about “students without citizenship” and about empathetic mentoring.  We’ve started negotiations for free SAT prep courses. We’ve talked about framing stories of disadvantage as stories of resilience.  We’re ready to start with the high school kids.  We’ll never be fully ready to start with the high school kids.

On the flagship campus, the Dream Project students gather for bonding over burritos every Friday afternoon, arriving on foot from the dorm rooms and frat houses and nearby campus apartments.

Our students thought that this was a great idea.  We are a commuter campus;  they spent an hour one day trying to agree on a central location, trying to find a time that could work with their work, class, and family schedules.  They settled on Thursdays at 9:00, at a place known to be very low cost.

Only two people showed up, in spite of their best intentions.  In the end, their weeks were  just too full.

And next week, the planning comes to fruition, and we meet the high school juniors.  My students, many of whom themselves stumbled one step at a time into college, will begin talking with and listening to students much like them and will offer support, perspective, and information that they themselves may not have had when they were applying for college.

It is a student-led project.

They’ve added this project on top of  work, courses, family, and commuting.

Much of this is brand new to many of them: The public speaking on campus, the work of organizing their own learning, the challenge of cold-calling busy high school counselors,  the prospect of asking potential donors for money, the responsibility of launching what essentially will become a non-profit.   I call, email, chat in the hall, spend time one -on-one in my office, suggest readings, cajole, thank, steer, back away, buffer, nudge, recommend, and mediate.

And I’m reminded of how I learned so much of this over years, not weeks, and by trial and error (mostly error), not within this sort of collaborative endeavor.

The flagship campus students speak powerfully of how much they’ve learned in this work.

I think that our students will potentially learn even more, and will potentially learn very different things about themselves and  their own educational journeys.