I use a ton of data to inform my practice so it only makes sense that I collect data on what I am doing. Here is the first.
I do tend to read and re-read multiple books at a time. Some of these are for lesson planning, consultant planning, or even fun. This has a lot to do with why I start most sentences with “I just read…” Get to reading, folks!
If you haven’t already seen it, much of what I was thinking about in Social Justice College Counseling Part 2: The Other 2% is discussed really well in “Dear White People.” Check it out!
Social Justice College Counseling Part 2: The Other 2%
This is the second piece in a series I am calling Social Justice College Counseling, things to think about in terms of my philosophy when I am counseling students and families about college. The first in the series talked about finances and making sure students (1) graduate from college and (2) when they do, are free to make decisions that have little to do with paying back an enormous debt.
With that said, there is something else that is critical to consider when advising students of color, undocumented, first generation, migrant, and low-income students and girls about where they should attend school and this something is not one I hear most college counselors talk about.
When I was in graduate school at UCLA, I was also a researcher for an organization called the College Access Project for African Americans. I looked at enrollment data for African Americans and Latinos in the UC- and CSU-systems before and after Proposition 209 prohibited race-based affirmative action in California. It seemed to me that the institutions used the law to accept even fewer students of color than they already were so universities such as UCLA and Berkeley went from about 7% to 3% African Americans enrolled. Coupled with a state that was and is broke, a Black student who gained admissions to UCLA, for example, with little funding was likely getting into Yale with full funding so off they went to Yale, of course. Long story short, it was and is hard to find certain groups of students on certain campuses.
Back to being at UCLA. In one of those years, UCLA enrolled six African American non-athlete males. Six. I was a TA that following year when an African American male student approached me during a final exam study session and said, “sis, I’m one of the six and I really need your help.” That has stuck with me in the years to follow and now I think about my son being in that same situation one day.
When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of affirmative action in Bakke v. UC Regents in 1976, one of the arguments was that we need students of color in our classrooms in order to provide some context or a differing opinion on a given topic. Some campuses have come to require a course in race as part of the general education requirements on that campus, such as Berkeley’s American Cultures requirement. As a graduate student at Berkeley, I have been a graduate student instructor for a few of those courses. The classes are super important and critical for students to understand issues of identity or as part of what we are now calling 21st Century Skills.
So Bakke is important in terms of content even without affirmative action and the American Cultures courses are spectacular, but here is my issue with both: they are incidents of mainstream society looking to what they can receive from students of color, not what they can give students of color. That student who approached me at UCLA? He was struggling. But when that course on race came up, suddenly he was everybody’s friend and the sole authority in the classroom. When you ask universities about the lack of diverse enrollment, they are quick to point their fingers at K-12 education and K-12 educators are quick to point their fingers at budgets or restrictive admissions practices at universities. The problem is always someone else’s fault and in the meantime it doesn’t get solved. Meanwhile, as college counselors and teachers, we continue to prepare students to attend universities that believe it isn’t their fault that other diverse students are not attending that university. And they continue to do things in the exact same way…something I hope to change very soon.
I realize this sounds real chip-on-the-shoulder like but the basic point that I am making is that when you have qualified and motivated students of color, the university has to give something back. Some of those things are embedded. For example for Black students, Berkeley Black undergrads can choose to live in a dorm with other Black students, the African American Studies Department at Berkeley provides such a community and safe place for Black students, unlike any I have ever seen on any other campus, and the Black Recruitment and Retention Center provides amazing peer support. None of it is perfect, but it’s there.
I briefly stated earlier that I began recently working with girls for many reasons and I’ll go into them another time. Thinking about the above as well, I do think about supports that universities put in place for girls. I was talking to a colleague a few years ago about the number of sexual assaults on college campuses and he said that for his daughter, he knew it was inevitable so he was preparing her for how she should respond. I thought back to my undergraduate years and the handbook all the girls received about where the safe places were, how to call for an escort from the library to the dorms, and how all of the dorms had security guards at night. I remembered back to all of the college tours I have taken with families and all of the times those same safe places were pointed out. And I realized in talking to that colleague or looking back at all the tours, I never once heard how they were going to train or provide discussions on power for the boys. My colleague also had a son; he never talked about having a discussion with his son about power, appropriate relationships, or how to guide his friends to make good decisions. The onus was on the victim and tools to be less victim-like.
Some things are reactive. While one can create support systems, universities have to be malleable as humans change and therefore their indiscretions change.
This brings me to the incident at Oklahoma University and the very unfortunate reality that incidents of racist and sexist parties or other events happen on college campuses all the time. All. The. Time. And this absolutely has to stop. Universities have to be safe places for everyone to learn about self. So when these incidents occur, and I think of the families I work with, I first take note of the campus and then the response: how quickly does that apology come; who makes the apology; what are they apologizing for; and what systemic things are put in place to ensure future incidents do not occur. Would I advise a female student to attend a university that took a year to bring charges against alleged rapists? Or one where a fraternity consistently holds “gangster and hoes” and “undocumented” parties without even an apology from the university? It is not likely and hopefully other counselors do the same.
Remember that I am not about victim-blaming so while I do mentor students of color, undocumented, migrant, low-income, first generation students and girls to have the soft skills necessary to be successful in these environments since the other reality is being a super minority will be their reality for a long time to come, when I work with students and families in majority cultures, I discuss privilege and power and how they can dismantle those systems. I know other college counselors encourage students to search for that ancestor of color and write a personal statement about that discovery or to fudge numbers on the FAFSA to seem needy. If that works or not is one thing, but what is the learning for that student in how they understand her or his privilege? It seems that some are ready to have diverse students on campus for when their student has a question about Ferguson for their term paper or is playing ball, but not willing to hear the upset from that same student when a noose is hanging in their dorm room or a fraternity is chanting about a noose on a bus.
The larger point I am making here is that college counseling, similar to how we approach other aspects of education as social justice teachers, is yet another way to dismantle institutional racism, sexism, and classism from both ends.
I wrote “education activist” as part of my Twitter description. I thought it was a bit pretentious of me until I thought about the distinction between my brand of college counseling and the other stuff. I also was speaking to someone else about what I do, so I thought it would be worth making that distinction here. Part of this I already discussed in my post, Perpetuating Privilege, but I wanted to partition it out a bit more so it’s super clear here.
This first post in this series is called “Mo’ Money” because I am really focused here on the strategy of getting a marketable degree in a finite amount of time with as little debt as possible.
The first thing to realize is that I work with all students, but I focus on those who traditionally do not have access to this type of college counseling: students of color, low-income, first generation, undocumented students, and/or girls (a recent addition that I will discuss in a later post). I would like to make that first distinction because most likely the above groups cannot financially or socially afford the current model of college admissions where these types of students end up at a public university with little aid and drop out within the first semester because either life happened or support did not.
This is what I mean:
In California, one can attend one of the many campuses within the University of California or California State University systems. I love the UCs and CSUs BUT the reality is that the state is broke and schools are taking the hit. This means that the current time to graduation for UCs and CSUs is six to eight years and one receives very little scholarship aid. Even the athletes at these Division 1 universities are not receiving anywhere near full-funding packages. So take a UC at about $30K per year for six to eight years and we’re talking about a 24-to 26-year old with $180,000 to $240,000 of debt. As adults, think back to when you were 26. If you owed $240,000 at that time, would you have made the same decisions? Again, for the type of students I mentioned above, we simply do not have that luxury.
Also understand that the above implies these folks are making it to twenty-six without incident. Again, in these communities, the odds are against that happening. Someone will get sick. Your family will need you to go to work. Your family will need you to leave the dorms and move back home to help watch a family member. Those are the realities. And those realities mean the above students will not graduate at all, let alone in six to eight years.
The other reality is that odds are the type students I mentioned above did not attend a great high school that prepared them for college and beyond in terms of soft skills. In college when they don’t have reminders from all of the adults around them, chances are really high that they simply do not know how to ask for help, so they don’t. The other chances are they will be the only Black, Latino, indigenous, undocumented, poor, first generation student in their classes and they’ll feel that raising their hand to ask questions in that huge lecture hall with 300 other students will only affirm the stereotypes all of the students around them may hold of them. So they don’t ask questions and fail. More on that one in a later post (I’m looking at you, Oklahoma University and the long list of universities with race incidents that only serve to further alienate small populations of under-represented students as I think about that.)
Unlike the public universities in California, a huge component of the ranking calculations for private schools is that they matriculate their students in four years with degrees that set them up for great jobs or graduate school. Stanford has an extremely high matriculation rate to maintain, meaning they will do A LOT to keep students there and graduate them. They will also do A LOT to make sure you don’t embarrass their good name when you are in the world. And in a world where economists are saying that one needs a master’s degree at minimum, the fact that 75% of Stanford graduates pursue graduate or professional degrees is HUGE.
At a university such as Stanford, a student will have more tools at their disposal and will be at a campus that actively recruits more students of color, first generation, etc. But let’s talk about money again. Stanford is $50K per year and a student will most likely finish in four years. Stanford reports that 99% of all students receive some aid in the form of scholarships, not loans. Stanford also reports that of all students who need aid, they will receive 75% of that in scholarships, the rest in loans. This means that students will graduate at 22 years old with at most $50K of debt. If they really played their cards right, they will have finished an MA or JD at 24 or 25 with no additional debt with a job where they can actually pay off that undergraduate debt.
Just to really drive the point home, compare that 26 year-old public university-graduate with the $240,000 in debt with a Bachelor’s degree with the 25 year-old private university graduate with a law degree with $50,0000 debt. I feel like the answer is obvious and as I mentioned in the first part when we think about social justice college counseling (as I like to think of it), instead of just being obvious, it is imperative to counsel students in this way.
One quick note about community colleges, especially in California: of the type of students I have been discussing, about 13% in California actually successfully earn a Bachelor’s degree after transferring and they spend four or more years at the institution to which they transferred. For the most part, going the community college route in this state just adds more time.
In order to counsel students in this way, it is also critical to understand that the way one gains admissions to the large public university versus the private liberal arts college is VERY different. It is actually a bit fascinating: while large public universities don’t have stellar graduation rates, they don’t mind students doing a lot of that work in high school. So students can come in having almost specialized in a specific subject. I feel it’s disingenuous to ask a fifteen year old to make a decision about a course that will affect the rest of their life: how do they know if they like Philosophy if they have never taken it? Creative Writing? Advanced Calculus? Students don’t have to declare a major for a while, but they are applying to specific colleges so having a demonstrated interest in one thing is important to those large public universities.
But those small liberal arts colleges want the exact opposite. They don’t want the 18 year-old engineering expert (and if that sounds ridiculous, it should). They want the kids who like Psychology and Spanish and Physics because, as economists also say, over 60% of the jobs that this generation will have doesn’t even exist yet; they need them to be innovative and create the jobs they will one day have, also keeping in mind they will one day go to graduate school where they can really specialize. I like to think about it as something Steve Jobs said in his biography. He took enough programming classes to know that people weren’t messing around. But the Apple Store is modeled after how he felt when he read Moby Dick. He wanted the experience of opening an Apple package to tap into some aspect of one’s psyche. As much good or bad as we can say about Steve Jobs, he was definitely using those skills he learned in all those classes he was auditing throughout his career and that’s what employers are looking for today, regardless the field.
When I advise a certain type of student, I am advising them in the direction of Student B because something we, as a public, don’t quite grasp yet, Student A who can afford that debt or has folks who can afford that debt (although, in my best Suze Orman voice, no one can) is a luxury, AND it is damaging to all of us to think it such limiting, dichotomous terms: you have business people who can’t interpret meaning from people’s words and scientists who don’t think about race and gender. But yes, I advise Student A types too but I do it. More on why and how later.
One last thing: after talking to dozens of admissions counselors at various types of universities, the application from a public versus private high school student to a public versus private university should look different. Actually, the reason that kid who everyone thought would get into all those great schools and didn’t, is because s/he DIDN’T consider or know how to apply to the different type of schools. While we all know students who seemingly fit one type of school but got into another, think of those as anomalies. As someone who prefers something more certain, I like to go with systems and thinking that have more guarantees.
So the short end of it is, it would be unethical of me, and not in the spirit of social justice, to say to first generation, low-income, undocumented students, students of color, and girls, to take a route I know will not benefit them, or the community, in the long run. And being in a position to choose a route one is passionate about rather than has to do out of financial necessity is that route.