Posts Tagged ‘students’
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It should come as no surprise that, as reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education [paywall], students on college campuses are struggling over the issue of class.
The situation is particularly difficult for first-generation college students (as I was back in the day), who are cast as subjects of “socioeconomic diversity” within institutions of higher education that are increasingly targeting the sons and daughters of the wealthy in order to increase revenues and move up in the rankings.
The class problem in relation to higher education, of course, is an old one, as Thorstein Veblen discussed in the Theory of the Leisure Class:
Ritualistic survivals and reversions come out in fullest vigor and with the freest air of spontaneity among those seminaries of learning which have to do primarily with the education of the priestly and leisure classes. Accordingly it should appear, and it does pretty plainly appear, on a survey of recent developments in college and university life, that wherever schools founded for the instruction of the lower classes in the immediately useful branches of knowledge grow into institutions of the higher learning, the growth of ritualistic ceremonial and paraphernalia and of elaborate scholastic “functions” goes hand in hand with the transition of the schools in question from the field of homely practicality into the higher, classical sphere. The initial purpose of these schools, and the work with which they have chiefly had to do at the earlier of these two stages of their evolution, has been that of fitting the young of the industrious classes for work. On the higher, classical plane of learning to which they commonly tend, their dominant aim becomes the preparation of the youth of the priestly and the leisure classes—or of an incipient leisure class—for the consumption of goods, material and immaterial, according to a conventionally accepted, reputable scope and method. This happy issue has commonly been the fate of schools founded by “friends of the people” for the aid of struggling young men, and where this transition is made in good form there is commonly, if not invariably, a coincident change to a more ritualistic life in the schools.
And, of course, it’s become much sharper in recent years, with growing inequality in the wider society and soaring debt for those students who are trying to follow the American Dream.
While I’m certainly not against the “dialogues” featured in the Chronicle article, what students in fact need is a clear and rigorous discussion of how class works—in the economy and in the wider society. They need academic courses—in economics and sociology but also in literature and the sciences—that explicitly treat the issue of class, which given students the concepts and methods to understand how class works and how it shapes their lives, before, during, and after their studies.
Otherwise, all we’re doing is participating in the “growth of ritualistic ceremonial and paraphernalia and of elaborate scholastic ‘functions’” and watching students struggle, outside the classroom, with the issue of class.
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Pell Grants and need-based financial aid are supposed to make a college education accessible for low-income students and institutions of higher education more socioeconomically diverse. But it’s not working. Instead, what we’re seeing is a determined effort on the part of many colleges and universities—both public and private—to recruit affluent students in order to boost their revenues and rankings. Those schools, in other words, are providing “affirmative action for the wealthy.”
That’s the conclusion of a recent study by the New America Foundation, “Undermining Pell: How Colleges Compete for Wealthy Students and Leave the Low-Income Behind.”
With their relentless pursuit of prestige and revenue, the nation’s public and private four-year colleges and universities are in danger of shutting down what has long been a pathway to the middle class for low-income and working-class students. This report presents a new analysis of little-examined U.S. Department of Education data showing the “net price” — the amount students pay after all grant aid has been exhausted — for low-income students at thousands of individual colleges. The analysis shows that hundreds of colleges expect the neediest students to pay an amount that is equal to or even more than their families’ yearly earnings. As a result, these students are left with little choice but to take on heavy debt loads or engage in activities that lessen their likelihood of earning their degrees, such as working full-time while enrolled or dropping out until they can afford to return.
The problem, not surprisingly, is highest in the private nonprofit college sector, “where only a few dozen mostly exclusive colleges meet the full financial need of the low-income students they enroll.” The rest are leaving poor students behind, because they’re using their institutional financial aid as “a competitive tool to reel in the top students, as well as the most affluent, to help them climb up the U.S. News & World Report rankings and maximize their revenue.”
As it turns out, many public universities are traveling down the same road:
As more states cut funding for their higher education systems, public colleges are increasingly adopting the enrollment management tactics of their private college counterparts — to the detriment of low-income and working-class students alike.
One of the main ways that states have dealt with the financial pressure has been to free their public institutions to take a so-called “high tuition, high aid” approach — meaning that these institutions can sharply raise their prices with the expectation that they will provide more generous financial aid to offset the effect on low- and moderate-income students. This analysis finds that the high-tuition, high aid approach has been a failure for low-income students. In many states that are following this model, such as Pennsylvania and South Carolina, the neediest students are facing net prices that are more than double what they are being charged in low-tuition states such as North Carolina.
Penn State University is a case in point. In-state students attending the university’s flagship campus in University Park pay about $16,000 in tuition and fees annually, which is double the average charged at public four-year colleges and universities. Despite the fact that Penn State spends nearly $14 million a year on institutional aid, its lowest-income in-state students pay an average net price of nearly $17,000, the fifth-highest of any public institution this report examines. In other words, Penn State’s neediest students do not appear to be getting any discount relative to other students at all. At the same time, about 6 percent of the school’s first-time freshmen received an average of $3,800 in so-called “merit aid” in 2010-11.
Schools like Penn State seem to be using their pricing autonomy to gain an advantage as they fiercely compete for the students they most desire: the “best and brightest” students — and the wealthiest.
The result: too many colleges and universities, both public and private, are failing to maintain an accessible higher education for the nation’s students. They are, instead, making it more and more difficult for low-income students to acquire a high-quality postsecondary education while creating a system that provides affirmative action for the sons and daughters of already-wealthy Americans.