From beyond the grave, can you revamp your poem? Can you tell me about a dream half-attained? A dream that is invested in, quasi-delivered, and then sabotaged?
In the past few weeks, I’ve had 4 students tell me these stories of heartbreak:
- 3 semesters of Criminal Justice at ODU, 1 semester of PVCC. $26,000 dollars of debt. ODU won’t release transcripts, won’t allow 1st generation, immigrant student to register. Student is treading water, taking classes at PVCC that probably won’t transfer.
- 3 semesters of Social Work at VSU. 1st generation high school graduate/college student has dropped out partly because of money, partly because fears that the school won’t maintain accreditation.
- 2 semesters at VCU. Another 1st generation college student receives bill for $6,000 for this semester. Her CHS teacher writes a personal check for $3,000. Student returns for spring semester, not knowing how to get the remaining $3,000 before the end of term.
- 5 semesters in North Carolina. 3.4 GPA. There’s no more money for this semester. This junior is taking classes at PVCC. As an upperclassman, what can she possibly take that is helping her complete her degree?
Our system is broken. These 4 African American students have done what they are supposed to do. They’ve gotten good grades. They’ve stayed out of trouble. They’ve done what our schools have told them to do. They’ve followed the American Dream of pursuing their education. And now they’re returning home. Without degrees. Enslaved to a debt that will not be released by anything except their death.
We let them down. We’ve sold them a false bill of goods. We’ve failed them.
Here’s what I know:
- In the past weeks, I’ve talked to every college professor, every financial aid officer, and every scholarship manager that I could get hold of. None of them have had any hope of a solution for these students. Well, kinda one:
- I will be writing ODU a polite, but embarrassing, letter threatening to expose that they billed a student $5,000 for housing for a semester he didn’t attend. He’ll still owe $21,000, but I suppose that’s a start.
- All of these students were encouraged (some required) to apply to multiple 4-year colleges.
- All of these students, and their families, were unprepared to deal with the financial shenanigans of the schools and the federal government.
- If I were in their shoes, I wouldn’t have a clue how to proceed. And I spent 10 years prostrate to the higher mind.
- This is not their fault. This is not only their problem. This is OUR problem.
Here’s how to be horrible:
- Push kids through a K-12 system that doesn’t adequately prepare them,
- Stigmatize them if they don’t go to college,
- Tell them the only way to get out of the ghettos we’ve created is to go off to college,
- Have them sign notes for thousands of dollars, that’s not quite enough to cover all expenses,
- Create an unhelpful bureaucracy that penalizes for any slip up (in fact seems to be facilitating slip ups),
- Blame them when they are not successful,
- Accept that they’ll be making minimum wage in the service industry.
What are we going to do about this? Some suggestions:
- Develop a relationship with, and advocate for, a particular student,
- Demand more funding for state universities,
- Destigmatize attending community college,
- Demand tuition decreases,
- Stop degree inflation (does every job really require a master’s degree?),
- Stage national student and instructor walk-outs,
- Take education seriously as a human right
- Question who does it serve to keep our youth (particularly our youth of color) uneducated and broke.