Tuesday, January 8, 2013

NYTimes: For Poor, Leap to College Often Ends in a Hard Fall

As much as policymakers talk about earning a college degree is a great equalizer for upward mobility, it is often not a smooth transition for low-income and first-generation students according to the New York Times. Without proper guidance and support, this group is most likely to drop out of college and face staggering college debts that cripple their lifetime earnings.
Low-income strivers face uphill climbs, especially at Ball High School, where a third of the girls’ class failed to graduate on schedule. But by the time the triplets donned mortarboards in the class of 2008, their story seemed to validate the promise of education as the great equalizer. Angelica, a daughter of a struggling Mexican immigrant, was headed to Emory University. Bianca enrolled in community college, and Melissa left for Texas State University, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s alma mater. “It felt like we were taking off, from one life to another,” Melissa said. “It felt like, ‘Here we go!’ ” Four years later, their story seems less like a tribute to upward mobility than a study of obstacles in an age of soaring economic inequality. Not one of them has a four-year degree. Only one is still studying full time, and two have crushing debts. Angelica, who left Emory owing more than $60,000, is a clerk in a Galveston 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. The story of their lost footing is also the story of something larger — the growing role that education plays in preserving class divisions. Poor students have long trailed affluent peers in school performance, but from grade-school tests to college completion, the gaps are growing. With school success and earning prospects ever more entwined, the consequences carry far: education, a force meant to erode class barriers, appears to be fortifying them.

1 comment:

Burned Out Social Worker said...

Unfortunately, education is no longer a great equalizer. It's an investment where you either make gains or losses based on what you study and what you do when you leave school. Unfortunately, if you have $60K in a debt and a degree in a non-STEM field, you WILL have some hardships.

Students these days definitely need more guidance when it comes to their major/career choices. They need to do math and know exactly how much their education will cost, and whether their potential earnings will be enough to pay back their loans without undue hardship. I knew going into my MSW program that I would be making little money as a social worker. Thus, I opted for a public school with more affordable tuition and budgeted my money according. Unfortunately, a lot of students these days don't get the memo until it's too late, and they're buried in loan debt the rest of their lives.