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College for the One Percent

Women's Leadership Project alum & students

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Recently former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum called President Obama a snob for having the audacity to suggest that going to college should be a priority. As a privileged white male college graduate on big government’s payroll Santorum’s message to youth of color is: why go to college when there are unskilled sub living wage jobs selling oranges, cleaning houses, washing cars and shoveling French fry grease awaiting you in the ghetto? Santorum’s anti-college diatribe comes in an era when the need for a college degree has increasingly been questioned by both right wing policy makers and mainstream media. Yet, college-going continues to be one of the bedrock civil rights issues for youth of color in the U.S. Over the past several years the wealth gap between black and Latino households and white households has widened. Over the course of their lifetimes college graduates earn nearly one to several million more than do high school graduates. However, in California, Latino youth have the lowest college going rates among youth of all ethnicities despite the fact that they comprise over 50% of students in California schools. While college-going for African American students has increased college completion for youth of color overall remains abysmally low at major colleges and universities. Historically, colleges and universities that have few African American students and few culturally responsive on-campus resources have lower black graduation rates. According tothe Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, “Curriculum differences also play an important role in graduation rates. Carnegie Mellon University and Cal Tech are heavily oriented toward the sciences, fields in which blacks have always had a small presence. It continues to be true that at many high-powered schools black students in the sciences often have been made to feel uncomfortable by white faculty and administrators who persist in beliefs that blacks do not have the intellectual capacity to succeed in these disciplines.”

For youth of color who are the first in their families to go to college these challenges are compounded by the disproportionate number of black and Latino students who are in foster care, undocumented, homeless, and/or formerly incarcerated. Only 44% of LAUSD graduates go on to four year colleges. And the percentage of South Los Angeles high school graduates who do so is significantly lower. Due to budget cuts, inept professional development and institutional racism, culturally responsive college counselors, A-G college preparation courses, and highly qualified teachers are in short supply in high poverty schools. During a recent college forum at Gardena High School four activists from the Women’s Leadership Project and FUEL, CSU Long Beach’s undocumented youth advocacy group, discussed the importance of knowing how to prepare for and navigate college. All of the young women on the panel were the first in their families to go to college. The panelists discussed study groups, mentors, taking the time to meet with professors during office hours and tuning out the distraction of social media and peer pressure. Although the college-going rates of women of color outpace their male counterparts, college-educated black and Latina women continue to face steep obstacles in the job market vis-à-vis sexual harassment, employment discrimination (particularly within the private sphere), and pernicious wage gaps. Indeed, although black men have higher overall unemployment rates than black women, rates for black men improved at the end of 2011 and worsened for black women due to deep cuts in public sector jobs. The panelists addressed confronting sexist low expectations in school-community climates that normalize misogyny, teen pregnancy, and the model of black and Latina women as self-sacrificing caregivers.

Comments

  1. michaelswanson says

    How does going to college automatically equal snobbery? It’s not just about PhD’s in obscure dead languages, or whatever other leather elbow patch clad, wood paneled library fantasies that fool has. I work for a small company that sells medical equipment. No glamour and certainly no snobbery. Our human resources managers, medical billing specialists, IT technicians, payroll administrator, compliance officers and respiratory therapists all have some level of higher education. It’s necessary for these common, everyday, five-figure salary jobs.

    Of course, college isn’t necessary. I didn’t go and look at me! At age forty I make a whopping $15 per hour in a job I’m barely qualified for (hello networking!), after two decades of working unskilled jobs with no health care and poverty line wages.

    Fuck Santorum.

    • blackskeptics says

      Exactly. The idea that prioritizing college is snobbery is yet another example of GOP doubletalk and anti-Obama demonization. There is no way in hell people of color without college degrees will be able to earn a living wage (continuously) in this economy.

  2. Jenea says

    I wonder if Santorum’s take on college is not more about the perceived “godless liberalism” of campuses. His base is deeply suspicious of higher education because of the well-documented tendency for kids to leave their church (entirely or for a more liberal flavor) once they go to college.

    This doesn’t make his comments any better, of course. The fact that he is so disconnected from reality that he doesn’t consider the impact of what he is saying on low income families just makes it worse.

  3. left0ver1under says

    Education up to grade 12 was made mandatory and free at a time when it was sufficient education to make it through life. It isn’t anymore.

    A year of college credits should be available to anyone in the US. And it wouldn’t be free: the recipient would have to agree to a tiny increase in income taxes. At $1500 per month income, 0.5% extra taxes would be enough to pay for the year’s credits over the recipient’s lifetime. With just one year’s secondary education, a person’s income is going to be thousands of dollars more (on average) than without it.

    http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=77

    Another bonus: student loan eligibility could be attached to this. Those who get a high GPA in a year of “free” education would be a far better credit risk for student loans than a student who doesn’t give a hoot. There would/might be fewer defaults.

    • Michael Swanson says

      That sounds fantastic. Too bad most people will cry “socialism!” (which they can’t tell apart from fascism, communism or any other scary ism) and run screaming away. Investing in the future for all, even when oneself is included in the plan, requires giving a shit and even occasionally giving up a second large screen television or a pair of dust-covered jet skis in the garage. And to do it for someone who may not be like you? Gasp!

  4. lordshipmayhem says

    I think the thing that Santorum has most against college education is that it teaches such obvious dreck as science and reality, unlike the prejudice and superstition of religion.

  5. says

    I grew up in Southeast Texas. When I was very young (early 70s), a kid could graduate and get a job at a refinery. OK, it was warehouse work, but you could move up and in a few years, be an operator on a unit.

    When I was a college advisor in the early 2000s, you could not get a job in a refinery without a college degree (at least a two-year specialized refinery course). One of the largest plants in North America is being built. 1500 jobs… for 6 months during construction. After that, it’s only 150 full time, permanent jobs… that are going to people with graduate degrees in chemistry and electrical engineering.

    A bachelor’s degree in the new high school diploma. Every kid in school today must have a college degree to do almost any decent job (by that I mean, above poverty level pay scale).

    • fredericksparks says

      I am a Golden Triangle native myself. Not only could you get that job, but based on the cost of living, you and your family could have a very nice life. Many of the children of those refinery workers went to college. Social mobility…remember that?

  6. smrnda says

    College is definitely important, and given that Mr. Santorum has two degrees I think it’s a bit absurd for him to go on about the belief that everybody is going to college is ‘elitist.’ When not everybody has the ability to go to college, then college is elitist. When everybody gets a chance, going to college isn’t elitist, it’s just fairness.

    Santorum probably hates college since it teaches a fact-based worldview that doesn’t agree with his political and religious beliefs. His anti-college slam was probably a move meant to appeal to his fan base of ignorant know-nothings.

    All said, college achievement for minority students can’t be separated from the problem of getting minority youth good educations K through 12. Plus, minority students are at a financial disadvantage most of the time and as college costs rise without there being any real gain in wages and sources of financial aid continue to dry up. You can’t study engineering or science while having to work 40 hours a week just to pay the bills.

    As for billionaires not being elitist while educated people are, for conservatives an idiot who makes a fortune selling a substandard product is seen as some kind of a folk hero, while a person with an education is someone who questions the ‘greatness’ of the great conservative folk-heroes and is therefore bad. If money was the measure of a person’s worth, why wouldn’t drug dealers be heroes as well?

  7. Trebuchet says

    Santorum’s snob statement is designed to appeal to the ignorant. Just like Romney’s (four years at Harvard) statement that Obama (3 years there) had been too long at Harvard.

  8. says

    the really big problem i’ve seen with college, is that to get those millions and billions of extra dollars, you have to go into debt to get them, and take off earning while going. this chews up enough of the benefit to make the improvement be a few hundred thou.

    so, i know a lot of stuff, without a diploma that means dick, i also don’t know a LOT that i need to know(self teaching engineering without knowing calculus is not fun). i has a sad :P.

    in a city or town with a college or university that would allow testing toward credits, anyone could learn on my own, or get help, and take cheap tests for the creds. this brings to mind the loony idea of co-op colleges, there’s some that are doing similar, but with fluff courses, i’m talking college level stuff, maybe even university, and they could take place anywhere, even online.

    someone teaches something that they know, in exchange for getting taught something, might even get it to count toward public service(courts could assign teachers from the traffic violations lists). if someone could donate toward facility upkeep, power and net for the servers, that could be a way to help too, with enough help that way, an occasional pro could be paid, for the difficult stuff.

  9. Tyrant of Skepsis says

    I don’t mean to diminish at all the importance of college education for success in the Job market and consequently socio-economic status – that is of course the crucial point for groups like women of color to get out of the vicious circle. Still, I find it a bit sad that discussions about higher education are so often reduced to the Job training aspect, when they are about much more.

  10. G.Shelley says

    Obama saying everyone should go to college (which he didn’t really say, just advocated post high school education) is snobbery in their eyes, because it is seen as a way of avoiding a minimum wage job with little if any prospects of career advancement. To those people, it is the same as saying “People should try and get educated so that they don’t end up with jobs like yours”, which is the same as saying “Your job, and therefore you, are not worthy of respect”
    Possibly, or Santorum could just have been lying, praying on people’s fear of liberal elites to suggest that Obama wants to indoctrinate their family.
    I have to wonder how many of the people who cheered Santorum genuinely don’t want their children to go to college

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