SL 751

The college kids were entertaining us at Easter.

Watch this strangely mesmerizing video of conservationists cleaning up an old manuscript.

Zoom in on the dust jacket of this book:


How to Afford College

After a lifetime of a free K-12 education, many students and their families are not sure how they can afford college. Those price tags trigger the gag reflex — $30K, $55K, $70K — few people have spare cash in those numbers in their yearly budget. Kids who come from families with no college experience and lower/ lower-middle class families are particularly vulnerable. But I see kids from families in towns, like ours, making expensive mistakes as well.

The fear of the price causes some to miss out on opportunities. Some don’t fill out FAFSA forms and leave Pell Grant money on the table. They under-match, meaning they could be attending a more selective school. They don’t take advantage of the federal loans — a little loan is a good thing. They see people from their community who fail out of school, and it makes them even more nervous about investing in college. It’s possible to be too timid.

Others ignore the price tag and are too aggressive about their higher ed spending. They pay a lot for degrees that could be gotten for much cheaper at the community college. They attend private colleges, and won’t consider the in-state public college.

Graduate degrees are now responsible for 40 percent of the country’s $1.5 trillion student loan debt. Yes, a bunch of it goes to law and medical programs; presumably those students will be able to quickly repay that debt. But there are a whole lot of other masters programs, which don’t lead to huge paychecks — social work, hospital administration, criminal justice.

If a family hasn’t put away enough money in 529 over 17 years to afford a pricy private school and that family makes a dollar over the Pell Grant cut-off, then a public school is really the best option. (I’m assuming that we’re thinking about an average kid, not the student with 1,600 SATs or can run a 4 minute mile.) In some cases, it’s necessary to attend a community college for two-years and then transfer to a four-year college. Take a look at whether you can get to your career goals with an associate degree and skip the BA all together.

I don’t think that previous paragraph is ground breaking. And it’s not a tragedy. Public colleges are great right now. Sure, the kids are a little bit of a number and get an industrial-grade education, but for most kids, it’s fine. And many places, like Wall Street and Silicon Valley, like those public college as much, if not more, than Ivy League students. They have massive alumni base to give kids an edge in the workplace at least for first jobs.

While you and I might say that public schools are fine and good and make college affordable to just about everyone, a lot of people don’t know that. In part, it’s because we have guidance counselor crisis in the country. In Arizona, there are something like 700 students for every guidance counselor. If a student doesn’t get that info from home, then they apply to schools blindly. Young people aren’t capable of understanding money, so they either become too conservative or too aggressive in their higher ed purchases.

Since we’re talking about education reform, better education about college affordability should be on the list.

District 75: ‘The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love’

Almost 30 years ago, I walked into my class of 12 teenagers with acute disabilities in a District 75 school in the South Bronx feeling young and nervous. I had no formal training as a special education teacher, just a master’s degree in political theory and an emergency teaching certificate from New York City.

My students included Jason and Jorge, both of whom had learning disabilities and degenerative neurological disorders. They have likely passed away by now. Vanessa was a sassy 18-year-old with Down syndrome. Nearly blind and in a wheelchair, Robert loved to show off his autistic splinter skill of calculating which day of the week your birthday would fall on in five or 10 years. Sharonne, who wore a helmet, was so rattled by daily grand mal seizures that she was never able to remember my name.

My class was the highest functioning in the school.

On top of severe neurological, cognitive, and physical disabilities, my students also had all the challenges that go along with living in a high-poverty urban community. Every Monday morning, we fed children bowls of cereal we brought from home because many didn’t get enough food over the weekend. Classroom books and supplies were decades-old hand-me-downs from the previous teacher. Sometimes Jorge, who was in a wheelchair, couldn’t come to school because drug dealers had knocked out the elevators in his high-rise public housing building.

More here

Many Families Aren’t Sending Their Kids to Small Liberal Arts Colleges Anymore. Mine Isn’t, Either. Here’s Why

college with clocktower

In January, two small liberal arts colleges, Green Mountain College in Vermont and Hampshire College in Massachusetts, announced that they were going to close or merge with other schools. They joined the ranks of other small schools that have closed in recent years, such as Mount Ida College in Massachusetts, St. Gregory’s University in Oklahoma, and Marygrove College in Detroit. Sweet Briar College in Virginia was flatlining in 2015 before being resuscitated from certain death, thanks to extreme fundraising efforts by alumnae.

Small private schools suffer from a multitude of problems, including endowments that are tangled in strings, a declining interest in liberal arts, a decreasing pool of college-age kids, competition from online education, and growing administrative expenses. But most importantly, they can’t get families like mine to send their kids to their schools. They don’t have enough students who can pay full freight and are interested in the slower pace of a small liberal arts campus.

More here

Pie-in-the-Sky Proposals for College

Today, the buzz among the education folks that I follow on twitter is Elizabeth Warren’s proposal for student debt forgiveness. From the Daily Beast:

According to a Medium post detailing the policy, the debt cancellation would also apply for every person with a household income between $100,000 and $250,000, with the cancellation amount declining a dollar for every three dollars in income above $100,000, so that a person earning $130,000 would have $40,000 in cancellation. It would not cancel debts for people earning more than $250,000.

The immediate reply was from Phillip Klein at the Washington Examiner, who said that this plan was a cash handout to millennials and wouldn’t help Gen Xers who have already paid off that burden. His article then led to more angry tweets.

Whenever I interview a college student or a recent grad, the number one thing that always comes up is the cost of college and the noose of student loan debt. It is the rare family that has enough saved to choose the college of the choice for their kids without the concern about price.

I’ve talked with recent grads with over $100K in student loans. I’ve talked with others who worked three jobs to pay for school. I know people who will never, ever own a home, because they took out too many loans in grad school for a PhD program.

I talked with a student a few weeks ago (for an article that hasn’t been published yet), who had no clue that her family couldn’t afford a four-year college until she got her acceptance letter. Nobody is really sure how much money they’ll receive from a college until that final letter arrives.

This young woman’s family couldn’t contribute anything towards her college education, while colleges expected that she could find $50K per year. She could get about $7K in federal loans, but the rest would come from horrible private loans. But since her parents wouldn’t co-sign for the private loans, the point was moot. She went to a community college for two years before transferring to a local four-year school.

But she was exceptional kid. Most students like her wouldn’t have made it.

Making college affordable must be a big part of any 2020 Democratic platform. Student loan reforms are only one part of the problem and do nothing to stop that process that creates them. There has to be more money for lower-middle class families, easier transfer process between community colleges and four year schools, more social supports on the college campus, more inclusion for people with different learning styles, better pay for the majority of professors who don’t have tenure jobs, and great support for various career goals.


The last hour of the drive through tidewater North Carolina to my in-laws beach house is through one of the poorest areas of the country. Rusty shacks off the highway. Jesus on the radio. A sign outside the local corner store advertises pizza, AIDS tests, and a carton of smokes for $20.

Once we cross the bridge to the beach, it’s like entering a bag of skittles with candy colored beach mansions and clear blue skies.

We’re down here to check in on the in-laws and recharge our own batteries with long runs and books. I needed it.

Steve rented a convertible from the airport in Raleigh. He and Ian are super happy. I’m stuck in the backseat with wind blown hair.