Well, the New York Times carried the story on page 14, so perhaps the event wasn't too important. As its ticket for admission, each institution submitted a plan for expanding college access for poor, non-white students; but I'm sure that didn't take any of those 100 institutions more than 5 minutes to develop. Higher education has been obsessed with affirmative action for more than 30 years. They all have plans in place to increase minority and low-income enrollment.
I commend President Obama for highlighting the fact that higher education has become far too expensive, which has created hardships for low- and moderate-income families who want to send their children to college. His bully pulpit approach has probably contributed to the gradual easing of annual tuition-price increases. Universities that charge $50,000 a year for room, board and tuition are embarrassed to raise their prices much higher.
But let's step back and look at the big picture. The Higher Education Act of 1965 was intended to provide opportunities for low-income students to attend college, regardless of their financial wherewithal. Affirmative action, which the Supreme Court approved in Grutter v. Bollinger was intended to expand educational opportunities for minority students.
Today, the federal government pours more than $100 million a year into student financial aid, and total student indebtedness has reached $1.2 trillion. Average student-loan indebtedness among those who take out loans (about 65 percent) is pushing toward $30,000 by the time students graduate.
Millions of college graduates (almost half) hold jobs that don't require a college degree, and the gap between college completion for low-income families and high income families has widened. Will more money, more special programs, more focus on affirmative action improve this picture?
I don't think so. I think Michelle Obama might have made the most perceptive observation at yesterday's White House Summit. Intervention and encouragement are the key, she said, to ushering low-income and minority students into the world of higher education.
I agree, and I speak from personal experience. I came from an Oklahoma farm family and got a bachelor's degree from a public university in Oklahoma without any guidance about what I was going to do with that degree. I had no clue about how to develop a career or find a rewarding job with a middle class salary.
A friend of mine was attending the University of Texas School of Law, and he encouraged me to explore going to law school. My friend gave me the name of the Dean of Students, the late Thomas J. Gibson; and I made an appointment to see him.
Dean Gibson took time out of his busy schedule to ask me about my background and interests, and he made arrangements for me to sit in on some law-school classes--including a class taught by the great Charles Alan Wright--one of the nation's premier authorities on federal civil procedure and the courts.
|Charles Alan Wright|
My point is this. We can pour more money into higher education; we can establish more federal programs; and we can hire more college administrators to administer those programs. But what young people really need is for someone to take a personal interest in them and help them navigate the seemingly impenetrable bureaucratic obstacles to finding out what they need to know to get an appropriate college degree without going into too much debt.
In short, we need more kind and civic-minded people in higher education--more people like Dean Gibson. Unfortunately, for all the rhetoric and posturing by our college presidents and senior administrators, kind people are in short supply in our nation's college and universities. And a White House Summit is not going to change that sad reality.
Allie Bidwell. Millions of Graduates Hold Jobs That Don't Require a College Degree, Report Says. The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 28,2013.
Jackie Calmes. Obama Lauds Pledges to Expand College Opportunities. New York Times, January 17, 2014, p. A14.
Jason DeParle. For Poor, Leap to College Ends in Hard Fall. New York Times, December 22, 2012. Accessible at: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/education/poor-students-struggle-as-class-plays-a-greater-role-in-success.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0