Americans like to believe that we are the most mobile society– upward, we hope– in the world. In fact, we have a real problem with mobility in part becuase wages are so stagnant, unions have lost power, and higher education is so expensive. Add to that the pervasive anti-intellectualism of the culture in general and the right in particular and you have a recipe for an caste system.
I think one of the measures of the rigidity of existing caste system is the difficulty we have both in admitting the existence of poverty– the lowest caste are the “invisibles” as much as the “untouchables“– and in understanding the difficulties faced by people making the transition from one caste to the other. That’s what makes, “A New Model Community College,” so fascinating.
The articles describes the Ivy Bridge College, a partnership between a for-profit school, Altius Education, and Tiffin University, a private college. The program tries to address one of the dirty little secrets of U.S. education. As the article puts it, “the national average three-year graduation rate for community colleges is about 25 percent. ” Three quarters don’t make it, in other words.
As Diane Ravitch (among many others) puts it, the real problem in education is poverty. Her point is relevant to higher education as well as public schools. The accumulation of social and cultural capital needed for college takes time and energy; if you don’t begin early, it can be difficult to make it up quickly later. It seems like a simple, common sense idea.