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Who You’re Likely to Meet (and Not Meet) on a College Campus Today

U.S. public schools have been resegregated. Massive incarceration of black and Latino/Latina Americans has created the new Jim Crow. And while a vibrant black middle class does exist, poverty levels in the U.S. of people of color remain at a high level (The official U.S. Census estimate of poverty in 2015 was 13.5 percent of the population, or 43.1 million people… this absurdly low estimate is based on archaic accounting devices to purportedly measure poverty and does not count people who live from paycheck to paycheck on subsistence wages), with official policies hurting those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder extending back to the early 1980s and the beginning of the trickle-down era of “voodoo economics” and massive shifts toward income inequality and the absence of living wages and work opportunities.

Although problematic in a no growth economy for millions of people, higher education is still a way toward a better life, to a certain extent.. The fact of being an educated individual makes the value of higher education carry many benefits that are not quantifiable, although students and graduates with massive debt from college loans and poor work opportunities may wish to argue against this premise.

I knew what I saw when students sat in front of me at community colleges over a period of several years. There were many black and Hispanic students. The statistics on community college education bore that fact out. “Since 1994, black enrollment has doubled at institutions that primarily grant associate degrees…” From the 11 percent figure in 1994, to 16 percent in 2013 (“The Missing Black Students at Elite American Universities, the Atlantic, November 23, 2015). Unfortunately, these statistics don’t reflect the abysmal graduation rates of minority group students and other students at these post-secondary institutions. Generally, under 30 percent of incoming freshman eventually graduate.

Schools that grant bachelor and graduate degrees saw enrollment of black students go from 11 percent in 1994 to 14 percent in 2013. However, at so-called “top-tier universities,” the number of black students remained “largely flat for 20 years” according to the Atlantic article. That figure stood at 6 percent despite the fact that the U.S. Census showed that 15 percent of the college-age population was black. Many schools, like elite Harvard University saw a drop in black students to 6.5 percent in 2013 “down from 7.4 percent in 1994.”

Many students of color feel “very much on the fringes” the Atlantic reported. Other issues, such as support for minority students play an enormously important part in the experience of minority students in higher education. At the school where I taught in upstate New York  for several years, despite there being an academic and advisory support program in place—the Graduation Assistance Program (GAP)—I never knew a single minority student in any of my classes who reported actually getting support from that program despite the fact that staff positions existed to fulfill those helping roles. What exactly that staff did during the day remains a mystery to me to this day.

Inclusiveness on college campuses is also a major issue for minority students. Students of similar racial groups tended to sit together in my classes even though there was an open seating policy. Of particular concern was the fact that many minority group students gravitated toward the back of classrooms. That experience repeated itself with some students over the course of many years.

On a recent informal visit to the campus of the State University of New York at Albany, I noticed a similar phenomenon taking place on the common spaces between dormitories and academic buildings. Almost all students moved around the campus with members of their own group. Although the latter is absolutely not meant to draw any conclusions of merit for consideration by the social sciences, it struck as strange in 2017.

I wanted to hear the voices of some students during the campus visit. I was interested in finding out what kinds of subjects they studied. The first student I interviewed was a mathematics major. He spoke highly of his academic concentration and discussed majors that he would not recommend on the basis of their perceived quality. I then interviewed a couple. The young woman was a business major who had transferred from Mount Holyoke College in western Massachusetts. She spoke highly of her academic major. Her friend was visiting from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He was also a business major and spoke highly of that program and talked about how difficult it was to get into U Mass-Amherst.

What struck me after these discussions with students was that they studied majors that were of practical value in post-college or graduate school settings. An educated guess would be that these students had to fulfill academic requirements within their majors that included the arts and sciences. Had I remained on campus longer, and spoke to more students, I may have met students studying subjects in the liberal arts.

***

In a great loss for the left, Edward Herman, co-author of Manufacturing Consent with Noam Chomsky, has died. Here’s Edward Herman on the Real News Network in July 2012: “I am a real pessimist about politics in America. I think the scene has gotten really bad…(“Ed Herman, Co-Author of “Manufacturing Consent”).

 

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Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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