Tag Archives: education

Coit Tower: what I imagine an actual ivory tower would look like

I work in an ivory tower, but I’m kind of like the door man there, not the sage- or the king, or a princess. But I’m okay with this. Well… I’m mostly okay with it.img_1733

You see the problem with staying in ivory towers is that you can get lost and isolated up in the clouds. Clouds aren’t quite the same as the ground. On the ground, a person can just sort of stand there, naturally. Clouds are immaterial, and for a human to be there requires some sort of extra construction or apparatus to hold them up.img_1748

Its good to work at the door of the tower because you can walk around and remember what dirt feels like and how plants grow. From up above trees look small and while you might be able to see over walls, it gets easy to forget how hard it is to climb either one.img_1907

But if you spend all of your time in the weeds you never get to see more than a few feet. It can be hard to come up with new ideas, or to even really see what is going on, with limited vision.img_1910

So with my role in the tower, standing on the ground floor showing people the door, I get a little bit of both the up and the down. I head upstairs and see what they are doing up there, then I go back outside and try to tell people about it. Its good work.img_1825

Truth be told I would probably enjoy more time in the books. I like the stuff in books and I like the view. But in my mind the stuff in and up there are pointless unless it does something down and out there, and I have been out there enough to know that the gap between in and up and down and out is huge.img_1816I hear and read a lot of things about the environment in college, but few of those opinions or descriptions are coming from people who work in college. Or are currently attending college. Sometimes it comes from people who remember college. People in the weeds are talking about the tower.

Then I talk to, or read the work of, people in the tower, and to them the people in the weeds are a “them.” A them is very different than a we. Making the we bigger than it is now is a big deal to me.

The best thing for we requires both the tower and the weeds.

So I’ll stick with my job.

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Cost of College When Converted to Minimum Wage Hours

Because I had some extra time on a Sunday afternoon, I thought I would take the time to convert the cost of college into minimum wage hours. I may need to reevaluate how I spend my free time.

The current federally mandated minimum wage is $7.25.

The current average in-state tuition at a public university is $9,410. That figures out to 1,297 hours of work.statue main building

Just for fun, and perspective, the minimum wage and average tuition in 1970 was $1.60 and $358 respectively. That represents a 481% increase in minimum wage hours.

But that is just tuition. People also need to sleep and eat, which costs more money, especially if you intend to sleep indoors. To pay the average room, board, AND the average tuition, a minimum wage worker must put in 40 hours per week- for 15 months.

College accreditation boards assume (dictate) that a full time college student will spend between 24-36 hours per week in class or studying. The variance is due to the variations in class content and student aptitude. Let’s call it 30 hours for simplicity.

40 hours working, plus 30 hours schooling, leaves 98 hours per week to also fit in 56 hours of sleeping, giving a student 6 hours per day left over. How luxurious. Anyone can do that right?

Perhaps one can. It would be hard of course, but anything worth doing is hard right?

Maybe those extra six hours a day are necessary for beer-pong and protesting things. Or maybe they are needed to work out ways to find a minimum wage job that will schedule you for 40 hours per week, which doesn’t happen because that’s full time and requires benefits, so probably the student needs two part time jobs that will each schedule out 20 hours a week. If they are both on campus this could work, cut down on travel time and whatnot, but if not this kid will need to schedule in some travel time. On a bus. Because I forgot to figure in the expenses associated with a car. Or laundry. I’m going to pretend this is a pretty responsible student and assume they cut out beer-pong.

The math proves it can be done- at least in a perfect vacuum without unexpected expenses or buying toiletries- or income taxes.toepenn

But… and of course there is a but…

This student will not be able to do an internship, play any sports or join any clubs. This student will have to go to class, study, and work, forget playing around. No high jinks or animal house ballyhoo, which sounds like the no nonsense real life dictates any responsible parent would tell their child. Especially if that parent is doling out advice with the wisdom of their own experience from back in 1970.

Which makes me a little sad and terrified.

Sad because things are indeed different now, but also terrified because college’s usefulness is really in all those things outside the classroom. Doing good in class puts a lot of stuff inside your head but it doesn’t put your butt into a job. Most of the things that lead to jobs, like relationship networks, internships, experiences, and interviews, all happen after hours.

That isn’t even considering the things that lead to actual learning and thinking, like study abroad, field work, and participation in diverse experiential activities. This minimum wage working, public school going, student will be working very hard to get the bare minimum of what colleges offer and is very likely going to get some negative feedback from Mom and Dad when they ask for extra money or bring home loads of extra laundry and this student will probably get a lecture about how it was back in the old days and how kids didn’t complain and they did it themselves so quit being a complainey little snowflake.

So, dear snowflake, let me help you a little. What follows is not science, nor does it consider things like taxes and interest, but it gives you a thumbnail of how now compares to then in the spirit of making apples versus oranges more into apples versus crab apples.

Average 1970

Salary- $6,186= $515.50 per month no taxes

Cost of home- $23,600/3 years salary/$65.50 per month for 30 years no interest

New car $3,542/$59 per month for 5 years no interest

Healthcare $380 per year= $31 per month

Monthly budget

Rent $65.50 + Car $59 + Ins $31 = $155.50 or 30.16% of income

Minimum wage- $1.60

Tuition at local state U- $358= 223 hours minimum wage work

 

Average 2017

Salary- $51,939= $4,328.25 no taxes

Cost of home- $292,891/5 year salary/$813 per month for 30 years no interest

New car- $30, 152/$502 per month for 5 years no interest

Healthcare $9,810= $817 per month

Rent $813 + Car $502 + Health $817 = $2132 or 49.25% of income

Minimum wage- $7.25

Tuition at local state U- $9410= 1297 hours minimum wage work

College is 481% more expensive today when converted to minimum wage hours.

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College Admissions: how it works

In light of the Department of Justice’s announced intentions to investigate colleges that enact affirmative action policies in admissions decisions, it might be helpful for the public (and the Whitehouse) to understand a few things about college admissions.

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First, you need to know that college admissions is not like the NBA draft. Schools do not collect a pile of applicants and then rank them all starting at their number one draft pick and then start moving their way down the board until they run out of spots. It does not, nor has it ever, worked that way.

While most all colleges are a little different and policies and ideologies vary, the basic standard is that rather than starting at a ranking and working their way down, what admissions boards do is start by setting a floor, or basic cutoff at the bottom, below which the school doubts the applicant’s ability to handle the course of study. This normally consists of a minimum GPA or SAT/ACT score. Once the minimum is set, everyone above that cutoff is “qualified” and fair game for admission. Past that, whatever policy, practice, or magical spell the school wishes to employ to fill up their freshman class, is up to them.

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This gets tricky when the school has more qualified applicants than openings, or in some cases, more openings than qualified applicants. In both cases, there are fights, arguments, exceptions, and shenanigans all around in every direction. But however these dust ups get settled, and in all cases, what you need to know is that there are no draft style leader boards with applicants ranked 1-2,000 and consequentially it is impossible for one applicant to take another “more qualified” applicant’s spot.

Why this is important to know, is to help you avoid the mistake of thinking that there are regular, or even rare, scenarios where candidate A loses their spot to a less qualified candidate B. This does not happen because, in almost all cases, the only students being reviewed are above the predetermined floor and consequentially they are all “qualified”, and if they are all qualified, it is up to the committee to decide who they want to let in, or who is “most” qualified. Consequentially, determining who is more qualified than another is so subjective that it is impossible for you, or I, or anyone outside of that closed-door room, to be able to make that determination. Some schools (public) decide that within the pool of qualified applicants they will privilege kids from in-state. Some (private) may decide they want a sampling of students from all over the globe. Some schools work hard to recruit students to specific programs, like math or science, others may value racial and ethnic representation and the experience diversity brings to a campus, but in all cases, remember that the admissions committees are assembling these classes from a pool of candidates who have already been deemed qualified.

But of course there are always exceptions, or things that look like exceptions. Folk lore holds that these exceptions normally come in the cases of athletes and racial minorities. In addressing this lore, allow me to be a little crass for a moment.

What colleges care about most, are rankings and money. While rankings are nice for bragging rights, they are mostly relevant in how they can translate into more donations and applications, which ultimately means more money. So really, what colleges care about most, is just money.

If you have money, or the ability to bring in money, a college will let you in. Period. This is why the NCAA gets very finicky about minimum academic requirements. This independent third party has set some minimum academic standards for all schools to follow and then deems any applicants below those standards ineligible to play, and thereby unable to bring the college more money. So those kids don’t get in. This is also why some rankings, like US News & World Report, put certain metrics like graduation rates, incoming class GPA, and SAT scores, into their formula. If a college compromises on their admission standards, they get a lower ranking. Colleges do not like to drop in rankings.stadium (2)

Please keep in mind that normally the NCAA minimum standard is way below the average college’s admissibility floor, and that the desirable US News reported averages are way above the normal college’s admissibility floor. With this in mind, when and why would a college violate its own standards to let in an unqualified or less qualified student?

For money.

The two biggest, or most frequent, instances of compromised college standards are for athletes and legacies. Most Americans are familiar with the reasoning of the athlete exception, you might even be able to name their names, but in case you are less familiar with what a legacy is, this is an applicant who is the child of an alum. Legacies get preference because they are more likely to not only translate into future tuition dollars via children and grandchildren, but they are more likely to become donors. Every University and college wants to become a part of your family. More specifically, they want to become that charming, lovable, member of your family that shows up to every family function, but is probably broke and will definitely pull you into a side room and ask for a small loan. This family member will let Junior in, despite Junior’s C- average. Colleges will take Junior because he brings along extra money.

Racial minorities do not naturally bring along extra money. Diversity is indeed a metric considered in most rankings, but it is only one of many and henceforth far outweighed by GPAs and SATs. Because of this, colleges are not likely to let in any applicant who is below their admissibility floor simply because they are a minority… unless they have money.

So to review, let us say the floor is a 3.5 GPA and the college in question only has one spot left.

Scenario 1: Applicant A is a white male with a 3.4 and applicant B is a black female with a 3.4 and a very sad story. Neither are admissible, neither get in.

Scenario 2: Applicant A is a white male with a 3.6 and Applicant B is a black female with a 3.5 and no sad story. Both are admissible, I probably take B.

Scenario 3: Applicant A is a white male with a 1.7 and a huge trust fund and applicant B is a black female with a 3.9 who conquered poverty to get a great SAT score. A gets in.

Scenario 4: Applicant A is a white male with a 3.9 and great SAT while Applicant B is a black female with a 3.6 and a moderate SAT. A gets in.

One last scenario just to make a point: Applicant A is a white male with a 1.7 and a rich alum parent and Applicant B is a black male who runs the 40 in 4 seconds flat and can bench press 400 pounds. A gets in.

A gets in because A already has money and B might break his leg.

College admissions is a high stakes, high stress, poker game for sure, but let one thing be clear. If you are a qualified candidate, you will not lose your spot to an unqualified competitor simply because they aren’t white.

Unless they are rich.

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It Is Worth the Trouble: depending on how you measure it.

The first time I graduated I didn’t “walk”. I took my last final on a Friday and on Saturday morning I moved 5 states away. I stayed away for seven years. I was jaded and disgruntled and just wanted to get out and to be done. I wasn’t sure my degree was “worth it”.fromthestage

The second time I graduated I sat through two ceremonies, walked in one,  and I milked everything I could out of all of it. I wanted more. I loved it.IMG_9247

Now I have the opportunity to sit up on stage at graduation ceremonies every year and it gives me a moment to pause and reflect at the differences between my first and second ceremonies. Or rather, compare my attitude relating to the two educational experiences.

What I have learned from this reflection is at the heart of why I do my job.IMG_4375

What I learned is that I did it all wrong the first time. The worst part is that I didn’t know I had done it wrong till I did it the second time.

I had done it all wrong and because of that I didn’t think it had been worth it. I worked hard, and scrimped and scratched to pay for it, and I needed a degree to get a job, and sure I learned some stuff in there and I definitely needed a job, but in the end I felt spent and it was almost as if any real lessons I had learned were in spite of, rather than because of, school.IMG_7487

Then, thinking I was only pursuing career advancement in a trade school sort of way, I went to school again and it was as if fireworks, a choir of angels, and all the possible light bulbs surrounded me in glittering explosions of song and light.

I was risking more, spending ten times more, and it was the most wonderfully indulgent experience imaginable.

And because of it, I am happier every day after, than I was any day before.procession

That happiness is how I measure worth.

Education is worth it… when you do it right.

School is worth it.

Worth, all of it.

That is why I love my job. There are things about my job that are hard, that are drudgery, that frustrate me to no end, but I love it because I can feign some wisdom from what I have learned along the way and I can help others know how to do it right the first time.

You can do it right the first time.

Happy graduation season everyone!

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HBCUs and the Current Administration

Yesterday the white house played host to presidents of historically black colleges and universities. You may have seen the picture. It is the one with our nation’s president at his desk, a smiling Amarosa at his side. The office is packed with black people in dresses and suits, and of course Mrs. Conway kneeling on the couch.main-bldg

I wasn’t there. I don’t really know what happened and I can only guess at why.

But Dr. Walter Kimbrough, the President of Dillard University was in that room and he wrote about it. Oddly enough just last week three freshman were in my office asking me questions about student support and I printed out two different peer reviewed articles written by Dr. Kimbrough to help them.

Here is what he said about yesterday, “…the goal was for officials from a number of Federal agencies (about 5 were there including OMB) and Secretary DeVos to hear about HBCUs. That all blew up when the decision was made to take the presidents to the Oval Office to see the President… there was very little listening to HBCU presidents today- we were only given about 2 minutes each, and that was cut to one minute, so only about 7 of maybe 15 or so speakers were given an opportunity today.”

Today is the last day of Black History Month. The image I saw online had the potential to communicate some hope for these institutions. Sadly, as is the precedent, it fell far short.

Then I saw the Education Secretary’s statement following their meeting.

“Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have done this since their founding. They started from the fact that there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education. They saw that the system wasn’t working, that there was an absence of opportunity, so they took it upon themselves to provide the solution.

HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.”front-gate

This is the kind of statement you make if you aren’t listening. But again, I wasn’t there so maybe she did listen, or maybe she didn’t get a chance to hear them, or maybe it is worse. Maybe she listened and then still chose to release the above.

It should be clear that Black colleges did not start because of too few choices, they were founded because of exclusion. There was a system in place that was working for white people, and those people fought hard to keep this benefit exclusive.

Once these schools were founded they did not represent an additional choice, or even an alternative, they represented the only option.

Had the Secretary chosen to listen to Dr. Kimbrough, the president of one of these lauded schools, here is what he would have said (which we know he would have said because he published it today),

“Fifty years ago a philosophy emerged suggesting education was no longer a public good, but a private one. Since then we’ve seen Federal and State divestment in education, making the idea of education as the path to the American dream more of a hallucination for the poor and disenfranchised.”

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The White Side of Black History: the cow jumped over the moon

Peter Tosh had a song with the lyrics, “We teach the youth to learn in school, that the dish ran away with the spoon. We teach the youth to learn in school, that the cow jump over moon. So you can’t blame the youth (when they don’t learn), you can’t fool the youth.”

It wasn’t exactly a hit single but he was making a point. Our children are not stupid, but we often treat them as if they are, and even worse, sometimes we make them that way. For instance, when my oldest was in 1st grade and just learning about holidays, which were very exciting since they included lots of activities in class, and days off from school, she asked about Martin Luther King Day. Her teacher explained that a long time ago black and white people weren’t allowed to be together. Martin Luther King Jr. thought this was wrong and helped get those laws changed so we could all be together. It was a nice age appropriate story, except is was horribly misguiding.

It was misguided not only in this instance but also in that this foundational error rarely gets corrected throughout the entirety of most American kid’s classroom education.

The soft pedaling of lessons on American racial history is damaging because we do everything we can to remove perpetrators. There are great injustices in history, and those who suffered through them did some amazing things in overcoming thanks to remarkable leaders like Fredrick Douglass, Rosa Parks, and Abraham Lincoln. But somehow, these injustices just were. No one did them, it wasn’t anyone’s fault, it was just the way things were. When contrasted with the Revolution caused by King George and Redcoats, and world War II caused by Hitler and the Japanese, it is silly to think Jim Crow was created by a cow jumping over the moon. Yet that is pretty much how we explain it.

So we can’t blame the youth when they don’t learn.

But kids grow into adults and we often hang on to what we learned when we were little. It is important for people to know, and not just in light of current political atmosphere but because it is the truth, that those laws were made by white people. Those Jim Crow laws were made by white people who at best were trying to protect their own position and possessions with complete disregard for black people, or at worst, with the intention of hurting and repressing black people. The makers of those laws represented and were what made up “America”. That was us.

My eight year old understands this. She is old enough to get it. She is also old enough to understand, but still be shocked by, the knowledge that when Martin Luther King, and a whole lot of other people, started working to change those laws, it was the police who tried to stop them. She got a new respect for MLK once she realized how dangerous it was to stand up for rights. After seeing photos of police dogs and fire hoses my little girl paused for a minute, thinking. She looked sort of sideways at me, her white father, and asked, “was it dangerous for white people too?”

Great question.

I told her about a young white man named Jonathan Daniels who tried to help black people register to vote in Alabama. He was shot by a Sheriff in the middle of the day with witnesses. The Sheriff didn’t get in trouble. We talked about how it was safe for white people if they just left things the way they were, because the police were on the side of the white people, but anyone, no matter their color, were in danger if they tried to change things. I also explained that black people were in danger no matter what they did.

She understood that. She didn’t like it, which is appropriate, but it made sense.

It is important that we as a society understand that problems, and especially laws, are never “just the way things are.” We make things how things are. All the high minded ideals of the American experiment rely upon us as a populace participating. That is what makes our nation remarkable. Despite our flaws and imperfections, we have built in mechanisms that allow change and have held us intact despite violence and horror and centuries if injustices. We actually CAN do something. Of course it might be dangerous- but so is roller skating.

So, on this first day of February, Black History Month, I write about these things, and urge us to learn about these things, not to foster anger or hatred or “dwell on the past”, but to simply understand the truth. We were taught that the dish ran away with the spoon and consequentially we don’t understand how we got to where we are… and we can be better. We need to learn about our history so we can be better.

Happy February.

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When a College is Historically White, Then Black, Then White Again: Black History Month

The University of South Carolina was founded by a state charter in 1801 and was the 23rd college founded in the United States. It was only for white people. When South Carolina started the Civil War, the students went off to fight for the South and the school closed, then it was occupied by Northern forces. After the war (1865) it was reopened under South Carolina’s reconstruction government.library reading room

They, the reconstructionists, made the school open to Black people. And it wasn’t just the students. One of the new professors they hired after the war ended was Richard Theodore Greener, America’s first Black professor at any state run flagship university (he was also the first Black person to graduate from Harvard). By 1875 ninety percent of the student body were Black.

When reconstruction was abandoned and democrats retook the state government (1876), they quickly closed the school down. Then in 1880 they reopened the school, but only to White people. After the passing of Brown vs. the Board of Education, which outlawed segregation, USC became the nation’s first college to require an entrance exam. That was 1954. The school did not admit any Black students till 1963.museum

Mind you, Professor Greener (who left the school when the democrats closed it down) graduated Harvard back in 1870, almost 100 years earlier.

History is not a straight line ascending up and up eternally. It weaves a drunkards path, back and forth, forward and back. Forward progress is not, and has never been, natural or inevitable.

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