When education isn’t the equalizer

Most Baltimore first graders classified as “urban disadvantaged” remained poor as adults, concludes a Johns Hopkins study. Less than half completed high school on time and only 4 percent earned a college degree. By the age of 28, just 33 of 314 reached the middle class.

Before they turned 18, 40 percent of the black girls from low-income homes had given birth to their own babies. At the time of the final interviews, when the children were now adults of 28, more than 10 percent of the black men in the study were incarcerated. Twenty-six of the children, among those they could find at last count, were no longer living.

Education “did not appear to provide a dependable path to stable jobs and good incomes for the worst off,” notes the Washington Post.

Low-income white boys didn’t go far in school, but earned higher incomes than their black classmates. They were able to “tap into what remains of the good blue-collar jobs in Baltimore,” researchers found.

These are the skilled crafts, the union gigs, jobs in trades traditionally passed from one generation to the next and historically withheld from blacks. These children did not inherit college expectations. But they inherited job networks.

Danté Washington, who grew up in a poor neighborhood, is one of the few success stories. His father died of liver problems when he was 12. A mediocre student with a short temper, he was “in and out of modest trouble.” But he finished high school on time. And he’s always worked.

Washington had a son when he was 17, and he has worked nearly every day since. He worked at Au Bon Pain, then MCI, and for many years since, at a publishing company in sales and business development.

When the Johns Hopkins researchers last interviewed him, he only had a high school degree. But in 2013, he finished a bachelor’s in business, earned at night at Strayer University. He owns his own home and, notably as he drives through his old neighborhood, a Lexus.

He wants to become a financial adviser, so that he can talk with people in communities such as this one about the things no one discusses here: retirement, equity, savings.

What made the difference for Washington? His mother had a steady job for the school district. In high school, he participated in programs for students interested in business, including a summer program on the campus of Morgan State University.

Dante Washington is seen in the backyard of his home. (Photo by Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

What’s the best college for the country?

Washington Monthly’s 2014 college rankings show the most “public-minded” institutions based on social mobility, research and public service.

We all benefit when colleges produce groundbreaking research that drives economic growth, when they put students from lower-income families on the path to a better life, and when they shape the character of future leaders. And we all pay for it, through hundreds of billions of dollars in government-financed financial aid, tax breaks, and other spending.

. . . Instead of crediting colleges that reject the most applicants, we recognize those that do the best job of enrolling and graduating low-income students. Our rankings measure both pure research spending and success in preparing undergraduates to earn PhDs. And by giving equal weight to public service, we identify colleges that build a sense of obligation to their communities and the nation at large.

Only two of U.S. News‘ top ten schools, Stanford and Harvard, make the Monthly‘s top ten, which is headed by the University of California  at San Diego.

Categories include the best bang-for-the-buck schools, which looks at value for the cost most students will pay, not the sticker price. That’s how Amherst makes the top five.

The Monthly also lists the affordable elites (the University of California campuses do well).

America’s Worst Colleges have high tuition and high dropout and default rates. Of the worst 20, 11 are for-profit colleges and nine are private nonprofits. Art schools and historically black colleges do poorly in the ratings.

The 13 most ridiculous college courses include Skidmore’s Sociology of Miley Cyrus, Tufts’ Demystifying the Hipster and Rutgers’ Feminist Perspectives: Politicizing Beyonce,  according to Thomas K. Lindsay on See Thru Edu.

Occidental has a course titled Stupidity, which teaches that it is “the double of intelligence rather than its opposite.” I don’t follow the math on that. I may not be stupid enough.

College isn’t just about social mobility

Poor kids are told college is the key to social mobility, writes Andrew Simmons in The Atlantic. What about learning?

One of his 12th-grade students, “Isabella,” wrote a college admissions essay about wanting to pursue a career in oceanography.

The essay’s core concerned the rhetoric that educators had used to motivate her and her peers—other minority students from low-income communities. . . . Since elementary school, teachers had rhapsodized about the opportunities that four years of higher education could unlock. Administrators had rattled off statistics about the gulf in earnings between college graduates and those with only high-school diplomas. She’d been told to think about her family, their hopes for her, what they hadn’t had and what she could have if she remained diligent. She’d been promised that good grades and a ticket to a good college would lead to a good job, one that would guarantee her financial independence and enable her to give back to those hard-working people who had placed their faith in her.

Thankfully, Isabella decried this characterization as shortsighted and simplistic.

Simmons teaches black and Latino students in Los Angeles. Educators repeatedly tell them “that intellectual curiosity plays second fiddle to financial security,” he writes.

His students care a great deal about money because their families have so little of it, he writes. They fantasize about well-paid careers, but don’t understand the work they’d do as a lawyer or doctor. “According to ACT’s College Choice Report from November 2013, 32 percent of students pick a college major that doesn’t really interest them,” lowering their odds of completing a degree.

College should be “sold” to all students as an opportunity to experience an intellectual awakening. . . . we need to proactively teach our most marginalized students that honing an intellectually curious frame of mind is as essential to leading an invigorating working life as ambition and work ethic.

How many  high school students have an intellectual passion (or interest) they want to pursue in college? Isabella will get scholarships to pursue her dream. (If she earns a PhD, the money’s good.) But the B and C students really do need to worry about qualifying for a decent job without going into debt.

Why I let my daughter get a “useless” college degree gives the upper-middle-class parent’s perspective. The daughter is majoring in American Studies “with a focus on the politics and culture of food at a small liberal arts school.”

My daughter majored in American Studies with a minor in Creative Writing, worked as a book publicist, earned a law degree and now works as a literary agent.

57% of students get federal aid

For the first time,  a majority of undergraduates — 57 percent — are receiving Pell Grants and other federal student aid. Forty-one percent are taking out student loans, also a record.

College learning provides social mobility for disadvantaged students.

Getting poor kids to good colleges — for $6 per student

Informing low-income, high-achieving students about college options and financial aid is a very cost-effective way to encourage more low-income students to attend top colleges, where they’re more likely to earn a degree, make valuable connections and move up the social and economic ladder. An information program cost $6 per student, financial aid assistance cost $100 per additional student enrolled and increasing Stafford loans costs $20,000 per additional student, estimates Brookings researchers.

Secrets of a Princeton marriage

Princeton women should look for a husband on campus, advised Susan Patton, a Princeton alum and mother (of two sons), in the student newspaper.

For most of you, the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry, and you will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you.

The advice aroused and annoyed pundits), writes Walter Russell Meade on The American Interest. “For both women and men—even the over-achievers among them—happiness is about more than professional fulfillment,” he writes.

Too many elite collegians are marrying each other, writes Mead, citing a New York Times column by Ross Douthat.

Of course, Ivy League schools double as dating services,” wrote Douthat. It’s just considered gauche to say it in public.

That this “assortative mating,” in which the best-educated Americans increasingly marry one another, also ends up perpetuating existing inequalities seems blindingly obvious, which is no doubt why it’s considered embarrassing and reactionary to talk about it too overtly. We all know what we’re supposed to do — our mothers don’t have to come out and say it!

We need a national baccalaureate to recognize students’ knowledge rather than their ability to impress an admissions officer at age 17, Meade argues.

Today’s blue meritocracy, the degenerate descendant of the upper middle class Progressives of the early 20th century, has a problem: it is formally committed to ideas like equality, social justice and an open society, but what it really wants to do is to protect its own power and privilege. The Ivy League system of elite colleges is a key element in the system of exclusion and privilege that helps perpetuate both the power of the American elite and its comforting delusion that because elite status is based on ‘merit’ it is therefore legitimate.

America “needs to become a more open society”  that can recognize the Princeton kid who’s “an empty polo shirt” and the hard-working Ohio State kid who’s “a serious person,” he concludes.

College’s ‘party pathway’ maintains inequality

Seeking the “college experience,” young women in “party dorms” — especially those from working-class families — are distracted from their academic goals by social pressures, according to Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality Elizabeth-A.-Armstrong, a University of Michigan sociology professor, and Laura T. Hamilton, of the University of California at Merced, followed 53 women for five years after they first moved into a dorm at a middle-tier public university.

Even ambitious students were tempted by the “party pathway,”  which included a Greek party scene and an array of easy majors, researchers found.

. . . Taylor and Emma had strong academic records entering college and both aspired to be dentists. At the end of the study, Taylor was in dental school while Emma was working as a dental assistant—a job that does not require a college degree. Their fates diverged when Emma made it into an elite sorority and Taylor opted into a more studious sorority—a move supported by her college-savvy parents. Without highly educated parents like Taylor’s, Emma needed academic and social supports not offered at this school to succeed.

“College did not act as a pathway to upward mobility for most,” Armstrong said.

“Party schools” cater to “the social and educational needs of affluent, full-freight students,” write Hamilton and Armstrong.  For students who can’t afford five or six years to earn a soft degree — or no degree at all — the “college experience” is too costly.

CCs offer shot at social mobility

Community colleges offer a shot at social mobility — sometimes the only shot — but need to improve the quality of education.

Low-income, high scores, no degree

Even when low-income students earn high test scores, they struggle to complete a college degree, reports the New York Times.  The story looks at three Galveston girls who spent weekends and summers in a college readiness program. One went to community college so she could stay near her boyfriend and her family. Another went to a distant Texas State University campus because the application form was the easiest. The third went to Emory, but didn’t get the financial aid she was due.

Four years later, the community college student has earned an associate degree, but didn’t transfer to go for a bachelor’s because she thought it was “selfish” to leave her family. She works as a beach-bar cashier and a spa receptionist.. The Texas State student is still working on a bachelor’s degree, owes $44,000 and will need graduate school to qualify for a job. The Emory student quit owing $61,000. She works for $8.50 an hour at her boyfriend’s family’s furniture store.

Each showed the ability to do college work, even excel at it. But the need to earn money brought one set of strains, campus alienation brought others, and ties to boyfriends not in school added complications. With little guidance from family or school officials, college became a leap that they braved without a safety net.

. . . “Everyone wants to think of education as an equalizer — the place where upward mobility gets started,” said Greg J. Duncan, an economist at the University of California, Irvine. “But on virtually every measure we have, the gaps between high- and low-income kids are widening. It’s very disheartening.”

Fewer low-income students have the support of two parents, notes the Times. “Neighborhoods have grown more segregated by class, leaving lower-income students increasingly concentrated in lower-quality schools.” And college costs have risen sharply, even with financial aid.

“It’s becoming increasingly unlikely that a low-income student, no matter how intrinsically bright, moves up the socioeconomic ladder,” said Sean Reardon, a sociologist at Stanford. “What we’re talking about is a threat to the American dream.”

The Galveston three worked at low-wage jobs while in college, sometimes skipping — and then failing — classes to earn a little more money.

 Matthew M. Chingos of the Brookings Institution has found that low-income students finish college less often than affluent peers even when they outscore them on skills tests. Only 26 percent of eighth graders with below-average incomes but above-average scores go on to earn bachelor’s degrees, compared with 30 percent of students with subpar performances but more money.

The Galveston friends had help getting on the college track when they were in high school. But they weren’t prepared to advocate for themselves in college — especially the Emory student. She never went to the financial aid office to find out why she was getting a raw deal. She didn’t meet with academic advisors or tutors when she was doing poorly. It’s not so much that she lacked “grit.” She lacked chutzpah.

The best bang-for-the-buck colleges

The University of California at San Diego tops Washington Monthly‘s list of the top colleges for social mobility (enrolling and graduating low-income students at an affordable price), research and service. Next in line are Texas A&M, Stanford, University of North Carolina and Berkeley.

Only one of U.S. News‘ top ten schools, Stanford, makes the Washington Monthy’s top ten. Yale fails even to crack the top 40. New York University, which has floated to national prominence on a sea of student debt, is 77th. NYU does particularly poorly on the new “bang for the buck” measure.
Thirteen of the top 20 Washington Monthly universities are public, while all the top-ranked U.S. News colleges are “private institutions that spend more, charge more, and cater almost exclusively to the rich and upper-upper middle class.”
Also in the Washington Monthly, Stephen Burd calls for Getting Rid of the College Loan Repo Man who fails to distinguish between deadbeats and people who just can’t pay.