Can we help out Jay Mathews?
by Erika Owens on Jul 28 2009
In a column over on the Washington Post's site, Jay Mathews asks if anyone knows of any high achieving students who were kept away from college because of money. Can we help him out? Do you know of anyone?
The very question betrays his lack of understanding of people in poverty.
"When the poor but gifted and motivated students Delbanco describes materialize, they are treated like 6-11 power forwards looking for athletic scholarships. College recruiters underline their names. High school teachers load them up with awards. Counselors decide which of many interested colleges might be best for them. I can name scores of Washington area educators, and organizations like the DC College Access Program, who make sure students like that are not overlooked."
Let's unpack this.
First, the description is wholly outside of the student. It does not reflect on how the student thinks, feels, or approaches the college (read--thousands of dollars of debt) process.
Second, it takes will and funding for colleges to support these poor but gifted students. Not all, or even most, schools have both. Even schools that want to bring on needy students are grappling with smaller endowment income and the need to cut aid, while many Pennsylvania schools are trying to manage increased interest in aid.
Third, counselors? What counselors? How many of the schools these students attend have enough counselors, never mind the training for the counselors to know how to support poor but gifted students?
Fourth, it betrays a long-standing issue with equating urban with poor and suburban with rich. The (sole?) great achievement of NCLB was in disaggregating the data so that wealthy districts could no longer hide that poor, minority, and English language learning students were far behind their wealthy, White peers. But somehow the importance of this gets lost when people speak about poor students in general--DC may have good programs, but what about Tidewater Virginia or Central Pennsylvania? There sure weren't such programs in Erie, Pa.
Fifth, even with scores of educators and organizations in urban areas, there just are not enough of them to make sure all students are not overlooked. I volunteered a few weeks ago with College Summit at Amherst College, but there's no College Summit at any of the elite liberal arts colleges around Philly. Posse is coming to Penn and is already at Bryn Mawr, but that's just a dozen students at a time. These programs cannot reach all the top students in districts tens of thousands of students large. And, the programs are often very place-based, in specific schools, neighborhoods, cities, colleges, which leaves students outside those places untouched.
Throwing money and attention and accolades at poor but gifted and motivated students does not ensure that they can attend college.
My counselor did tell me private schools would give me money, but never explained why or how much or what other resources were available. Why on earth would I believe that I could afford to go to a school that in one year cost more than our household income? Why would I think I could afford tens of thousands of dollars of student loan payments when my family had no experience with that sort of money (outside of a house, which at least you can live in!)? Who was going to help me deal with the culture shock of living and learning with peers who had economic privileges I couldn't imagine? Where would I find a safety net if I failed out or couldn't find a job?
I consider myself lucky to have bumbled through the college process and actually succeeded in graduating. Lucky. Just because I don't know other students who weren't so lucky doesn't mean they don't exist.
But, Jay needs some proof. Who can offer him some? You can email him directly or tell your tales of college woe below.