The "Is College Worth It" Debate- A Debate Worth Having?
NEW YORK, May 4, 2012 /PRNewswire-iReach/ -- The "Is College Worth it" Debate—Not a Debate Worth Having
By Marcia Y. Cantarella, PhD, Author, I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide
While the twittersphere and other media are engaged in a debate about the value of college and the congress considers more cuts to federal financial aid and states consider increases to public college tuitions, we learn that the net worth of Blacks and Hispanics is between 16 and 18 percent less than that of whites. We also know that these populations are the ones suffering the highest unemployment rates. And we know that these are the populations who graduate from high school the least prepared for college and the least likely to go or persist if they do. And we know that those with a college degree earn at least 54% more than those without. These facts are all related. What they relate to is that Blacks and Hispanics, being educationally disadvantaged, are ultimately denied the possibility of attaining the college degree that might put them in a position to narrow that net worth gap. And people (with college degrees....) debate whether college is worth it? Excuse me!
I could suggest that those in power (affluent and college educated) are behaving in ways with regard resource allocation impacting blacks and browns that smacks of both racism and conspiracy.
As a dean in a variety of college settings I dealt with students who came to college unprepared, not intellectually, necessarily, but culturally. In places like Princeton there are safety nets and resources to sustain students and subsequent high graduation rates. In places like CUNY, where the resources are slim, it is easier for students to drift, unaware that they should take advantage of resources there to help them. Students who do not come from privilege view college as an elite experience of which they often feel unworthy. They do not approach the resources offered like career offices, tutoring, faculty office hours or advisers as the entitlements that their more affluent fellow students do. So they slip and slide their way out the door and no one seemed to notice that only 25% of black males entering college were graduating or that nearly 50% of all students entering college were not finishing in 6 years. <o:p></o:p>
Kids who grow up in the inner city may not have access to books at home or people to read to them as I did. But it is the skill that predicts by third grade whether one will graduate from high school. So if we want college graduates we need to encourage reading all the time. But urban libraries are closing. And who tells their parents what the stakes are so they can either advocate for resources or make other plans?
We also need, on campuses, to stop casting a disdainful eye on vocationality. The majority of leaders come from liberal arts backgrounds and narrow focus on career skills later. The reality has been, that skills like critical thinking, communication, research, problem solving are available across the liberal arts spectrum. There have been CEOs who were Religion majors and Psychology majors. Most faculty only stay in touch with those students who become the "mini-me" and follow the professor's path to the professoriate. We don't arm faculty with responses to the "what can I do with this major?" question. The reality that a college education is not a luxury but an economic necessity and is perceived as such by those who are paying the salaries. It is especially the hard pressed first generation, low-income and student of color for whom this question is most crucial.
Guidance counselors and parents direct students in linear ways forcing a history buff to be a chem major and try for medical school which has nothing to do with his interest or aptitude. Or worse, students of color are directed to "majors" that will only limit their futures because they are too narrow—like medical technician. Not that the jobs are not worthy—but people need to be prepared for demise of some careers as new ones emerge. So a vocational education still needs to be delivered in a way that provides intellectual agility. No one points that out to the student in the inner city high school who is trying to figure out college.
These students do not know what a syllabus is, who a bursar is or why they have to open campus emails and why walking away without guidance is financial disaster. Kids with college educated parents are being hand held through every step of the college process. No concern exists for them about entitlement. The student who is not sure about how they fit in the world given a history of disadvantage does not feel entitled to even ask questions. And we wonder why they do not succeed.
Not knowing how to navigate college, feel empowered to have a voice or seek help, Black and Brown students drop out and remain economically disadvantaged. We need to make college preparation systemic beginning with reading to toddlers and moving up to making inquiry acceptable and valued behavior. If college is an economic necessity then this should be the norm—for all children regardless of ethnicity, national origin or income. There was a time when this was more true but we lost that as the urban education landscape made people less ready to engage in college level work and the economics of college became more daunting. This is nuts.. As my father Whitney Young pointed out, what happens to Black folks in our economy is like the canary in the coal mine. Our losses become the nations.
The question is not is college worth it but how can the "smart" people who influence policy shift to asking how can we better explain why it is worth it and how to make it viable for more who need it so desperately. Unless, of course, there is a racist conspiracy going on.
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