No Progress on Poor Kids at Top Colleges

Despite effort, or the appearance of it, there has been no change in terms of getting high-achievers from low-income families to elite schools.

In 2006, at the 82 schools rated “most competitive” by Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges, 14 percent of American undergraduates came from the poorer half of the nation’s families, according to researchers at the University of Michigan and Georgetown University who analyzed data from federal surveys. That was unchanged from 1982. And at a narrower, more elite group of 28 private colleges and universities, including all eight Ivy League members, researchers at Vassar and Williams Colleges found that from 2001 to 2009, a period of major increases in financial aid at those schools, enrollment of students from the bottom 40 percent of family incomes increased from just 10 percent to 11 percent.

What does make a difference? Investments of money, which most schools either can’t or won’t prioritize, and investments of time, like sending admissions officers to schools that are off the beaten track. Also, perhaps most importantly, helping students understand that the sticker price at high-end colleges is not what most middle- and working-class families pay:

When Life Bites You In The Class: Around the World, in Oakland, and on Campus

Is “middle class” a useful appellation when it means such drastically different things in different places? We’re not even talking Pittsburgh vs. Brooklyn here, but, like, Los Angeles vs. Laos:

Middle class is as much a matter of perception as statistics—the number of Americans describing themselves as middle class has remained essentially unchanged in recent years even as their incomes and spending power have eroded. When the same term is used to describe an American household bringing in up to $100,000 per year (according to a recent poll; $250,000 if you’re Mitt Romney) and Laotians living on $2 per day (according to the Asian Development Bank), it may not be a very useful term.

It’s relative, in other words, dependent on context. It means you’re less well-off than the well-off and not as poor as the poor.

Sometimes it means that you’re a white girl in 1990s Oakland whose radical parents could live elsewhere but don’t. In that situation, you identify in key ways with your non-white classmates, neighbors, and fellow members of the local swim team — especially when it comes to trying to finally depose the fancy-pants country club team that shows up with their matching swim suits and their hubcap-size muffins and wins everything. In that case, you want what your team wants: to wrench victory from the soft hands of the enemy, even if only this once. But you also occasionally, guiltily yearn for the pop culture version of white adolescence, where everything is safe and clean, cute and funny:

Places I’ve Lived: A Dormitory for the Arts, Urban Hilltops, and a Former Department Store

Where have you lived, Marissa Barker?

Donating To Your Problematic Alma Mater: Do or Don’t?

According to Jezebel, some fed up alumni are refusing to give to their alma maters until those institutions prove that they are doing a better job at handling reports of sexual assault:

Sixty colleges and universities are currently being investigated by the Department of Education over their abject inability to handle rape on campus that respects both the accused and the accuser. Even more have been in the news in recent years for failing to prioritize students’ safety over their reputation (and, by extension, their ability to convince alumni to cough up donations). Unfortunately for colleges and universities’ desire to sweep this sort of thing under the rug, it’s a lot harder for them to keep students quiet in the age of social media.

Alumni of at least three schools facing an avalanche of bad press from students who say they were treated poorly after being sexually assaulted are responding by telling administrators that words aren’t enough, and until concrete evidence exists that schools are serious about keeping students safe from sexual assault, they won’t be donating money.

Protesting with your pocketbook is a failsafe way to feel like you’re doing something to make your opinions known. Maybe donate to public radio instead? But, full disclosure, my college is one of the 60 and when I was asked to use my limited Klout to help the spring fundraising drive, I said sure. Although I understand if people feel differently, to me, the issues are separate; I want to support financial aid efforts and even, yes, the school in general. I guess it’s a combination of cynicism — I don’t believe my withholding an annual donation will have an impact if national attention AND federal investigation won’t — and sentimentality, because I really like my alma mater.

Like, on Labor Day, we had classes, but my firebrand American History prof, who had hair the color of toaster coils and was technically still a card-carrying communist with an actual card and everything, refused to teach. Instead she played us the Linda Tripp tapes so we could listen to a Woman Eating Potato Chips While Secretly Recording A Sad and Vulnerable Monica Lewinsky and Plotting to Bring the Nation to a Standstill So We Could All Talk About Blowjobs. That was an education. Also I met a guy at college who I later married, and lots of very important friends who shaped me, and yadda yadda yadda. But the rape crisis is real. Do you also feel conflicted about supporting your imperfect college, or do you view this issue as clear-cut?

Nail Polish That Might Save Your Life

Living with a kitchen of limited size, and also being on a budget, means having to be strategic. No single-utility items, a friend told me once, sternly. That was her policy. She refused to pay for any gadget – a bread-maker, a George Forman grill, a pineapple slicer — that did only one thing, because no number of delicious cuts of pineapple could make up for kitchen clutter. Appliances must multitask! Be useful, or begone.

I thought about that when I read this piece about nail polish that can detect date rape drugs.

Undercover Colors is currently raising cash to refine its prototype and pay executives. According to a securities filing, the four-person company, which recently appeared at the K50 Startup Showcase, just raised $100,000 from one investor, with $150,000 left to sell in the round. And it has additional cash from competition. The company won the Lulu eGames this spring, sponsored by N.C. State’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, a contest challenging students to design working solutions to real-world problems.

Though the article raises some questions, like how could be it be savvy enough to detect roofies and also nontoxic, and how much would Smart, Potentially Life-Saving Nail Polish cost — too much for your average college student?, it’s an intriguing idea. Veronica Mars would approve, and so, I imagine, would my clutter-conscious friends.

Labor (Profs) vs Management (Administration) at Colleges Heats Up

Four intrepid professors have risked their future prospects to highlight the insane disparity in what college administrators are paid vs. everyone else, starting a popular movement. Even more nutty: this happened in Canada.

The current president and vice-chancellor of the University of Alberta, Indira Samarasekera, is leaving next summer.* This means that her job, which pays at least 400,000 Canadian dollars (about $368,500), is up for grabs. I’m sure the search committee expected a lot of top talent in the application pool—but they probably didn’t expect 56 Canadian academics, fed up with a highly paid administration in the face of country-wide “austerity” measures, applying for Samarasekera’s job in groups of four.

The elaborate and serious joke—an HR performance piece, if you will, that would also happen to have spectacular results if it actually worked—is the brainchild of Dalhousie University professor Kathleen Cawsey and three friends, a Gang of Four whose pointed (and hilarious) cover letter has become a Canadian media cause célèbre.

Since each of us would love to get paid 1/4 of what the president is, the original letter pointed out, we’d be thrilled to share the position. As a bonus, we’d do an excellent job! Probably better than OSU’s E. Gordon Gee, who took a $6 million golden parachute with him when he retired in disgrace.

Rarely has a stunt so funny been quite so sobering.

Crop Tops Cropped from College, Education = Reparations?, Academic Rejection vs Other Kinds

+ UT-Austin signs tell women how to dress so as not to be distracting and, according to Jezebel, crop tops are out.

Here are the things you cannot wear, if you want to learn to be a nurse at the University of Texas:

Midriff-baring shirts Short-shorts Low-rise pants Low-cut shirts that reveal cleavage

My K-12 religious school had a dress code that prohibited all of these things and I still feel funny if I wear them. My mind has been warped forever on the issue of modesty, which means I can’t be trusted to know whether this is egregious. Dress codes! Always unfair, if they’re only targeted at women? Justified in a context that has something to do with God, or taxes, or death? Can we trust students at a certain age to know how to dress appropriately and/or to not get life-threateningly distracted by a glimpse of skin?

+ Uh oh. STEM magic doesn’t work as well for black folks.

“Choosing THE RIGHT School”: BS or Total BS?

We’ve been talking a lot about college on the Billfold lately, which brings up an important question: How do you know if you chose the right school? People in our society make a fetish about picking the place that’s right for you as though there’s only one correct answer, and as though “the place that will give you the most aid” or “the state school closest to home” isn’t the guiding principle behind the way a lot of us make this choice.

Universities seem to serve as kind of a “You complete me” soul-mate stand-in. And for maybe the same reason we talk about “the one” in a romantic context, we take for granted that “the right” college exists out there for everyone interested in higher education. Doesn’t that raise expectations to an unreasonable level? After all, how do you evaluate the choice once you’ve made it? 

“I’ll Have a Venti Skim Half-Cap Frappucino and a BA, Please. No Foam.”

Amazon wants you to win you back. In addition to a new Prime Music Streaming service and a deafening whisper campaign about the super secret mystery Kindle smartphone it might have up its sleeve, it is also launching Smile, a program that allows you to choose a charity the store will support. Thanks, guys! But wouldn’t it be easier to treat authors, publishers, and maybe even employees a little better?

Starbucks, another massive corporation that has gotten flak for taking over the world and putting the little guy out of business, is trying to drum up some goodwill of its own in a very unusual, but more direct, way: subsidizing undergraduate education.

Starbucks will provide a free online college education to thousands of its workers, without requiring that they remain with the company, through an unusual arrangement with Arizona State University, the company and the university will announce on Monday. The program is open to any of the company’s 135,000 United States employees, provided they work at least 20 hours a week and have the grades and test scores to gain admission to Arizona State. For a barista with at least two years of college credit, the company will pay full tuition; for those with fewer credits it will pay part of the cost, but even for many of them, courses will be free, with government and university aid. …

Many employers offer tuition reimbursement. But those programs usually come with limitations like the full cost not being paid, new employees being excluded, requiring that workers stay for years afterward, or limiting reimbursement to work-related courses. Starbucks is, in effect, inviting its workers, from the day they join the company, to study whatever they like, and then leave whenever they like — knowing that many of them, degrees in hand, will leave for better-paying jobs.

Investing in your employees as a business strategy happens to be good PR. Win-win-win. Is Bezos taking notes?

Slut-Shaming Is About Class, Not Sex

Scientists love to give us data to tell us that what we already suspect is true: calories are not created equal; climate change is already cooking our planet and it’s our fault; and so on. Well, in case you’ve ever wondered whether slut-shaming, or bullying people, usually women, for their sexuality, is more about richer folks consolidating their in-group power at the expense of poorer, out-group folks, congratulations! The scientists say that you’re right. According to Al-Jazeera America, slut-shaming is more about class than sex:

Sociologists from the University of Michigan and the University of California at Merced occupied a dorm room in a large Midwestern university, regularly interacting with and interviewing 53 women about their attitudes on school, friends, partying and sexuality from the time they moved in as freshman and following up for the next five years.

The researchers discovered that definitions of “slutty” behavior and the act of slut-shaming was largely determined along class lines rather than based on actual sexual behavior. What’s more, they found the more affluent women were able to engage in more sexual experimentation without being slut-shamed, while the less-affluent women were ridiculed as sluts for being “trashy” or “not classy,” even though they engaged in less sexual behavior.