About the Blog

I will post a new entry every few weeks. Some will be new writing and some will be past work that has relevance today. The writing will deal in some way with the themes that have been part of my teaching and writing life for decades:

•teaching and learning;
•educational opportunity;
•the importance of public education in a democracy;
•definitions of intelligence and the many manifestations of intelligence in school, work, and everyday life; and
•the creation of a robust and humane philosophy of education.

If I had to sum up the philosophical thread that runs through my work, it would be this: A deep belief in the ability of the common person, a commitment to educational, occupational, and cultural opportunity to develop that ability, and an affirmation of public institutions and the public sphere as vehicles for nurturing and expressing that ability.

My hope is that this blog will foster an online community that brings people together to continue the discussion.


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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

College Affordability and the Low-Income Student

            On June 10, 2015, the Shanker Institute hosted a terrific panel on college affordability that included Senator Elizabeth Warren; Sara Goldrick-Rab (a professor at the University of Wisconson); Beth Huang from Jobs with Justice; and Zakiya Smith from the Lumina Foundation.  You can access the entire presentation here.

            I want to focus on the short talk by Sara Goldrick-Rab, for she made a strong case for the way the affordability crisis particularly affects people of low to modest income backgrounds.  The data she presented demonstrate that the link between college degree attainment and parental income is stronger than any time in recent memory, and that there is a huge disparity in degree attainment between students of similar ability but different income backgrounds.  She also presented data on the prohibitive cost of college—including community college—for low-income students, even with the financial aid that is currently available.

            Watching Goldrick-Rab’s presentation, I kept thinking of a group of low-income community college students I’ve been following.  These are successful students, students who have strong gpa’s and who have education and career goals that they are working hard to realize.  Yet these students face financial and other barriers that keep stalling their progress toward these goals.

            They live in a tight web of financial constraint.  Making the rent is a month-to-month worry.  Even with the Affordable Care Act, medical coverage for some is out of reach.  Child care is a major concern for those without robust family networks.  Transportation in sprawling Los Angeles presents another challenge, for many low-income students don’t have a car—or a dependable one.  It is in the midst of these constraints that they go to school.

            They have different packages of financial aid—some combination of grants, work-study, loans—but it is rare, as Goldrick-Rab demonstrates, that they get enough aid to cover their costs.  There are times when they cannot afford textbooks or supplies for occupational courses.  Or they can’t pay phone or Internet bills.  Or they have to move back in with parents or live with relatives—which sometimes wreaks havoc with the demands school places on them.  One of the students I know lives in a two bedroom apartment with eight other people.  Their small financial aid checks or checks from the work they do at the college are frequently late because of administrative glitches—glitches that result in anxious negotiations with landlords and bills going unpaid.  Money is always on their mind.

            Responsibilities beyond school also weigh heavily on them, for they have no financial reserves to draw on—none whatsoever.  One woman was making good progress toward completing an Associate of Science degree on top of an occupational certificate, but had to leave college for a year to pay medical bills and help support her mother.

            The promise of the community college has been access at minimal cost, making college affordable to a broad sweep of Americans.  But for students such as those I’ve come to know—and again these are diligent, motivated people—community college is just within tenuous reach.  And sometimes slips out of reach.  There is understandable concern among policy makers about the time it takes many students to complete a certificate or degree or to transfer—and sometimes the reason is not a lack of focus or motivation, but a lack of adequate financial aid and services that would support students’ efforts to succeed.

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