Three different education stories have stuck in my mind this weekend. They have nothing to do with each other directly – two are very different publications, and one is from me – yet combined they point to some ways higher education is developing. Themes include class, finance, gender, and race.
1. Two young women strive to complete undergraduate degrees, in the face of poverty, homelessness, and exhaustion, in this California Sunday account. It’s a deep dive into two lives, illustrating with examples a major segment of American higher education. Note the role of the California State University system in teaching and supporting poor learners.
It’s classic Sara Goldrick-Rab (here’s our Forum discussion with her) material, too:
At Cal State Long Beach, Kersheral’s tuition and fees ran close to $6,500 a year, but they were covered. In fact, more than half of California college students don’t need to worry about tuition — various federal and state grants and waivers pick up the tab. The problem is the cost of everything else. Two-thirds of the expense of attending a public four-year college stems from costs like rent, food, and books.
2. The Economist reminds us (Medium registration required) that higher education is a fine site for assortative mating. That is, people tend to partner with people with whom they share certain characteristics – in this case, high levels of academic achievement. This is also increasing: “the authors conclude that Americans born in 1972 do indeed have a stronger preference for better-educated partners than those born in 1943.”
They cite a recent paper by Pierre-André Chiappori, Bernard Salanié, and Yoram Weiss, “Partner Choice, Investment in Children, and the Marital College Premium” (paywalled), which finds that “preference for partners of the same education has significantly increased for white individuals, particularly for the highly educated”. Once more we see education and privilege acting as a feedback loop to reinforce if not expand inequality.
There’s an interesting racial aspect to this paper: “We find no evidence of such an increase for black individuals. ”
There’s also an interesting gender aspect: “we find that the “marital college-plus premium” has increased for women but not for men.
3. Earlier this year I spoke to a group of American academics. Never mind where or whom. Readers know that I speak with a lot of educators. At one point I explained the size of the combined student loan debt, linking it to state governments reducing their support of public colleges and universities. I do this wherever I go. Often I ask academic audiences to raise their hands if they are still paying off loans. As the inevitable forest of hands goes up, I notice the faces of those not paying off debt. Always a number are shocked and amazed, especially people from older generations.
This time I noticed one older (way beyond 65) professor quietly fume at this part of my presentation. At last he spoke up. “Students only take out loans because they want to use the money for a better lifestyle! They don’t have to do this!” I wasn’t quite sure what this meant, and he rapidly continued: “They spend the money on lavish furniture! and vacations!” Reactions from other academics were… interesting.