Thursday Reading List: College ... It's Complicated!

The New York Times has a sobering report this morning on college graduation statistics for students who use federal loans:

Of the 1,027 private colleges studied, 761 have graduation rates of less than 67 percent. At public universities, which the report does not study, the rate is even lower, 46 percent ... The Third Way report points out that high schools in which more than a third of students do not graduate on time are labeled to receive special attention by federal standards. If colleges were held to that measure, 74 percent of the private nonprofit colleges and 83 percent of public colleges would fail. But there isn’t a widely accepted bar for college graduation rates; a college can have a graduation rate as low as 2 percent and still preserve its accreditation.

This is embarrassing, and complicated. The schools that admit the highest proportions of students on federal Pell Grants are, by definition, serving a population that is statistically less likely to succeed in college. Part of that reason is academic preparation, because our K-12 system is so inadequate, but financial reasons are the most commonly cited problem for failing to complete college. It's not just the cost of tuition, either. First generation college students are more likely to be providing critical financial support to their families through wage earning.

Also, it's important that the Times covers this as a problem affecting the public and private sector; while news coverage has focused - rightly - on the spectacular public failures in the online higher education sector, students are slipping through the cracks everyday in less obviously nefarious ways. Sometimes, though, you don't have to dig that deep for the dirt:

The youngest of the billionaire Koch brothers had a dream: to found a private high school where academically gifted students of all socioeconomic backgrounds would do hands-on projects and learn by solving problems. He poured more than $75 million into building the school, the Oxbridge Academy of the Palm Beaches. But on Friday, he fired the head of school and declined to renew the contracts of the athletic director and the football coach. The moves came after a sexual harassment complaint and an internal investigation into accusations of kickbacks, grade-changing, excessive spending and violations of the rules governing high school sports.

There are some truly gross details in this piece, including the horrifically sexist things that Koch seems to think constitute "PG-13" comments. Beyond the scandal, this is a good example of what can happen when education amateurs think that either their wealth, or their success in other domains, makes them qualified to run schools. Running schools is hard. Teaching, especially kids from low-income backgrounds, is harder. It's not fair to lump other philanthropic endeavors with Koch's, but we shouldn't be afraid to pillory stuff like this.

If you need to cleanse your brain after reading that, watch this amazing spoken-word graduation speech from Donovan Livingston, which went viral last week:

Trey Mangum at Blavity caught up with Donovan Livingston, and here's what the graduate had to say:

Being a UNC, Columbia and Harvard alum, Livingston said he has been made aware of his blackness at each instance, saying, “While the universities I’ve attended, like most universities, have storied histories with race and race relations, the best part about attending these institutions has been the relationships I’ve been able to develop with people from all walks of life.” At each setting, Livingston has carved out communities for himself that he says have been supporting, uplifting and transcendent.

The storied history of American race relations is on full display on the history channel right now too, as the gorgeous Roots remake is running this week. Watching the original Roots in school was  a transformative experience for me, and not just because my Reading Rainbow hero was its star. W. Kamau Bell interviewed Lavar Burton about why it was time for a remake. Feminista Jones has been live-tweeting the episodes with excellent commentary and historical context. Damon Young has some solid advice for my white people as to how to interact with black folks after watching the miniseries:

As many of you may already know, during the Memorial Day holiday, the History Channel began airing a four-part remake of Roots­—the iconic miniseries tracing a black family’s history starting in West Africa, through American chattel slavery and up to the present day. As you can imagine, watching a depiction of the centuries-long capture, enslavement, rape, displacement, torture and murder of our ancestors can be a pretty harrowing and emotional experience for black people. And I can imagine that the fact that this capture, enslavement, rape, displacement, torture and murder was done at the behest of some of your ancestors is probably quite awkward, especially when interacting with your black co-workers the morning after a Roots episode. With this in mind, I’ve decided to give you a helpful guide on exactly how to do this.

If that hadn't already occurred to you, you can send thank you notes directly to Mr. Young.

Finally, today in the ongoing "saga related to race in the education reform coalition," Dan Weisberg doesn't shy away from some real talk:

My unscientific observation is most people in the ed reform community are politically liberal. I don’t doubt conservatives can feel like an unwanted minority in many gatherings where liberals give the impression that anyone who votes Republican is an ignoramus. That’s disrespectful, wrongheaded, and counterproductive ... But to put it plainly to my conservative friends: you’ve got to get over yourselves when it comes to discussions of race and racism and realize that it’s important that others speak the truth of their own experiences. I value your views and think the reform community is stronger for your ideas. But this celebration of diversity has to work both ways.
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