College and Poverty

It is a sad fact that many children who grow up in poverty never finish high school, much less go to college. Of those children who do finish secondary school and attend any kind of post-high school learning, a smaller fraction of those children ever finish and obtain a degree.

Poverty is a complex problem, more so because it is not simply about having a lack of money. There are often so many other inadequacies at work here, such as a lack of good parental role models (or any parents at all, including a home to live in), a lack of language skills, a lack of writing skills, a lack of reading or access to books, a lack of enriching opportunities such as interacting with nature or visiting a museum, and a lack of emotional support for the endeavor of learning to begin with.

The most significant hurdle though, I believe, is a lack of hope. There are many children of poverty who grow up in an environment that crushes their hope. Young children bubble with enthusiasm and ideas, and often express their aspirations easily when asked. Many children in poverty, however, throughout middle school and (if they make it there) high school, allow their environments to burn away their dreams like they’ve been dipped in acid.

For those students who survive a negative environment and push through to college, they face the question of signing up for student loans, often with no financial advice or help in understanding how much debt, exactly, they are getting into. Add to this equation the fact that students with no home support drop out of college at much higher rates than their middle-class peers, and the situation becomes sadder still.

For a well-researched example of this, please read this article by The New York Times: For Poor, Leap to College Often Ends in Hard Fall, published December 22, 2012.

Related to that, this article titled Narrowing the New Class Divide, published in The New York Times on March 7, 2012 also examines the hurdles low-income students face to attend college and find their way to good jobs, and proposes some unique solutions to these hurdles.

And then there is this (far more hopeful) editorial, published in The New York Times on April 10, 2013: From Poverty to a Top-Tier College, which explains why low-income students with good grades and qualifying SAT scores are often better off applying to elite institutions, rather than applying to “lesser colleges” which will force them to take on more debt.

These were the many issues I reflected upon while I wrote Love and Student Loans and Other Big Problems. That book, in the end, is a fairy tale, but the truth about life is: sometimes it gives us the fairy tale. Sometimes the evil witch dies, the dragon is slain, and the hero finds his true destiny. Or, to put it another way, sometimes slavery is abolished, women are given the right to vote, and children who grow up in poverty finish college and follow their dreams.