We Were Poor, And College Was The Answer to All My Problems (Right?)

Originally published April 12, 2013

When I was growing up I never dreamed of being an astronaut or ballerina. I wanted to be a teacher, because it seemed like a steady, secure job. My family was poor. There’s not a fun, witty way to say that, so there it is. We were three kids, a single mother, and two cats, and our household income never topped $24,000. The average was $17,000.

We were poor, I knew it, and it sucked. It’s hard not to notice when your family buys food with a weird card that only works at the grocery store. Or that you frequently get letters with “FINAL NOTICE” emblazoned across the front. Or that you are never, ever supposed to answer the phone in case it is “a bad man wanting money.”

College was positioned as The Answer To All My Problems from a very young age. I think that happens with a lot of decently smart kids from poor families—college is the way up the ladder, the way out of a tiny basement apartment, the way to a six-figure income that will help not just you but also, hopefully, your family. You didn’t want to beat the kids who made fun of your Wal-Mart clothes, you wanted to join them. Upward mobility and all that.

College admissions offices were the gatekeepers to the Middle Class, my brain the key. Right.

The Difference Between Good and Great, at Harvard and in Life

“When Christina Wallace, now the director of the Startup Institute, attended Harvard Business School on a scholarship, she was told by her classmates that she needed to spend more money to fully participate, and that ‘the difference between a good experience and a great experience is only $20,000.‘”

Hahhhahahhha..hahhaa….ha……..ha………(thinks about it for a second). By George, they’re right.

N.Y.U.’s Vacation Home Loans

Trachtenberg is commenting in the Times about N.Y.U. loaning out money to some faculty members and administrators to buy vacation homes.

How Are the MOOCs Doing?

The researchers note that this doesn't mean that online courses aren't working—just that there were a lot of curious people who were simply browsing and dropping as the courses became available.

The Briny Business of Academia

Thomas Frank’s essay on the downfall of the university system is a fun (“fun”) read and ties together a lot of the changes happening at universities in a fun (“fun”) way: “Just about everyone in academia believes that they were the smartest kid in their class, the one with the good grades and the awesome test scores. They believe, by definition, that they are where they are because they deserve it. They’re the best. So tenured faculty find it easy to dismiss the de-professionalization of their field as the whining of second-raters who can’t make the grade. Too many of the adjuncts themselves, meanwhile, find it difficult to blame the system as they apply fruitlessly for another tenure-track position or race across town to their second or third teaching job—maybe they just don’t have what it takes after all. Then again, they will all be together, assuredly, as they sink finally into the briny deep.”

The Three Ways I Got Schooled: As a Student, a Teacher, and a Person Trying to Pay Rent

A solid command of English and better-than-average rhetorical fluency has to count for something, right? Maybe it does, but certainly not as much as you’re taught in school—and certainly not in a down economy.

Hang in There, Humanities Majors

Inside Higher Ed breaks down a new report from the Association of American Colleges and Universities that comes bearing good news: liberal arts majors may take a bit longer to find well-paid jobs, by the time they're (we're!) in our 50's we make on average more money than people who studied in professional or pre-professional fields.

Also No Need to Fill Out a FAFSA to Read Some Books

UVA English professor Mark Edmundson’s argues that, despite employability concerns, all college students should consider the English major, as it “means pursuing the most important subject of all—being a human being.” Reading books is a pretty fun way to learn! But also: It sure would be nice to have a marketable skill after you rack up a billion dollars in debt. If I could go back, I’d have chosen either Spanish (don’t speak a word!) or nursing. Skills.

A Call for Higher Wages for Adjuncts

A minimum of $5,000 per course—that's what adjuncts and their supporters are asking for in their Mayday Manifesto that went live yesterday, according to Inside Higher Ed.