It’s hard to get nostalgic about a time when Jim Crow was still in force, abortion was illegal, and the Vietnam war seemed to be spawning mini-civil wars all over the West. And whatever was best about the 1960s was as much hype as reality; working people and the poor were certainly no better off. But I am almost nostalgic when I read a piece like, “Why Do Students Drop Out? Because They Must Work at Jobs Too.” Is it possible to be nostalgic for an idea that never really became real?

It was a privilege of a small group of the middle to upper middle class, mostly white, but for a moment in the U.S. we seemed to have created the seed of a very good way of life. (Maybe it was or wasn’t environmentally sustainable, but it was a start.) You could raise a family on the salary of a single person. (Usually the man, but in theory it could have been anyone). And when your kids got old enough you sent them to a school (usually a state school) and they spent four years, perhaps more, at college.

None of it was in any way perfect; not even close. But it was a good idea and as long as wages were high enough and education cheap enough (or subsidized enough) it was workable. More and more, though, the idea seems utterly lost. We all assume that it takes the income of at least two people to support a family; the cost of education has become a burden that many of us carry, via loans, through much of our adult life. Few seem even aware of this idea, or seed of an idea anymore…

In distance education this long decline has created an opportunity that is as much potential as dilemma. There are lots of people who still have that dream of education, but who gave up the dream of taking four years off (or five) to pursue it long ago. (Maybe they never thought such a thing was possible.) I can provide classes for them. But, as the study suggests, taking these classes, and working, and all the rest of it, makes it more likely that they won’t finish their degrees.

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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