The Real Class War Again: In Class

Nearly every child in America hopes to become a college graduate. Her ambitions are at least partly realistic—rates of high school graduation and college-going are very high. But the chances she will succeed in college are more modest: Less than 60 percent of students entering four-year institutions earn bachelor’s degrees, and barely one-fourth of community college students complete either associate’s or bachelor’s degrees within six years of college entry.

Students from socioeconomically disadvantaged families are even less likely to realize their college ambitions. Only 40 percent of beginning college students from low-income families complete a two- or four-year degree within six years. Rates of degree completion are much higher among high-income students (62 percent). Focusing on the most lucrative undergraduate degree, the baccalaureate, there is a 40 percentage point gap in completion rates between individuals from the bottom and top income quartiles. Since future economic and social success is largely predicated on holding a college degree, this low chance of college success among the poorest students perpetuates growth in income inequality.

A Federal Agenda for Promoting Student Success and Degree CompletionBy Sara Goldrick-Rab, Josipa Roksa | August 12, 2008, Center for American Progress.

Here’s more data from the real class war; this time, on the specific mechanisms that make class mobility more difficult than many believe. Or, rather, one of the mechanisms. It’s also the cost of college, from tuition to room and board, and the drying up of student loans, among other things.

What’s interesting about this report is that it focuses on the “lower-class” of the university system, arguing that more money and attention ought to be paid to “the most accessible but under-resourced schools.” The report’s authors want, in effect, to make mobility among schools easier.

I’m not sure I completely agree with the report, in part because it’s proposals rely so heavily on education sociology jargon– “value added evaluation” and the like. I like the idea, though, of making so-called non-traditional college careers easier to manage.

I did poorly the first time I went to school, and only one of my parents had a degree. I took a non-traditional path through community college, and it took five years overall to get my undergraduate degree. My sisters and most of my cousins have similar stories. Mobility isn’t a straight line.

I took seven years off between my M.A. and then my PhD and I won’t pay off these degrees until retirement. It’s easy to imagine anyone stopping at one of these points, or for any number of financial or individual reasons. Making the nuts and bolts of the system work together more smoothly couldn’t hurt.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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