More Students Talking About Money and Class

Today’s young people have grown up in a world unlike that of their parents. Class inequality has taken on much greater salience than racial inequality. Today’s youth didn’t grow up seeing fire hoses being trained on peaceful civil-rights demonstrators. Instead they’ve grown up in a country where racism continues to exist, but where voters elected and then re-elected a black president, and where Latinos are a rising political power. And they have come of age at a time of growing economic inequality, when the advantages of economic privilege are greater than ever before. Wealthy families have always had more resources to invest in their children, but the gap in that spending between wealthy and poor families has tripled since the 1970s.

In the Chronicle, Richard Kahlenberg, an author of several books on race, class and education, discusses the rise of student groups in colleges across the U.S. that are looking to foster discussions about class and socioeconomic diversity—much in the same way that issues of race and gender are discussed in other student groups. Kahlenberg’s daughter goes to Middlebury, an expensive liberal arts school that has created a program called “Money at Midd.”:

During my visit, my student host, Samuel Koplinka-Loehr, told me that working-class students often feel out of place amid the wealth on campus, ashamed that they don’t understand the cultural references commonly employed by classmates. Students of modest means feel alone and resent the failure of classmates to acknowledge that the immense wealth found on the campus is not the norm.

In meetings, working-class students and wealthy students come together to have frank, uncomfortable discussions about how much their families pay for their college educations, and how much of the cost they have to shoulder themselves with part-time jobs and loans. But it’s more than talking about the guilt that comes with having or not having money. Other student groups “push college administrators to increase recruitment of low-income students, expand financial aid, adopt need-blind admissions, create partnerships with community colleges, drop legacy preferences in admissions, and forge partnerships with organizations such as QuestBridge and the Posse Foundation to enroll talented working-class students.” I think it’s really terrific. (Thanks to Meghan for the pointer to this story.)

(See also: This discussion in The Awl from 2011 about class and race at Harvard. Photo: a.mina)

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