Wednesday Reading List: Free College (Sort Of), Adversity & Cognition, and Hiking While Black

New York has become the first state in the country to make college tuition free for most in-state students. Catherine Gewertz of Education Week has the story:

The "Excelsior Scholarship" provision of the budget will allow students from families earning less than $125,000 per year to attend all two- or four-year institutions in the City University of New York and State University of New York systems tuition-free. Projections about how many students will benefit from the program vary; according to the New York Times, Gov. Cuomo's office said 940,000 families are eligible for the benefit, but a legislative analysis said it would be closer to 32,000.

But Monica Disare, writing at Chalkbeat, says there's a catch:

The plan promises to cover the cost of college tuition at SUNY and CUNY schools for families making less than $125,000 per year. But it has a major snag that has so far gone under-the-radar, experts say. Students must live and work in New York after they graduate for the same length of time as they received the scholarship. If they do not, their full scholarship will be turned into student loans, according to the law. “This is a killer,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, a leading expert on college affordability and a professor at Temple University. “This is something you can’t trust. And you’re bringing back debt, which is the thing that everybody is trying to avoid" ... The provision, Goldrick-Rab says, which was not in the governor’s original proposal, could force students and families to make tough choices after college — about whether to take the best job they can find, for instance, enter the military or take care of a family member. She also argues that since it creates an incentive for students to stay in-state while unemployed, it is not good for the state’s economy. More importantly, it could saddle students with debt they didn’t expect, she said.

I'm going to file this incident under, "This is why we can't have nice things, America." If a state wants to make college "free," they should make it, you know, actually free. American productivity is sagging under more than $1 TRILLION in student loan debt; we should not solve the college affordability problem by exacerbating the debt load, particularly in an underhanded way. There was a time in American history when a high school degree was considered superfluous, decadent even ... something to which not all Americans were entitled. Today, that seems crazy. The contours of higher education will change dramatically in the coming years, but the days in which a high school degree was sufficient preparation for the complexities of our world are over.

In other news, Olga Khazan is in The Atlantic, looking at new research on the effects of adversity on cognitive development:

"We have been documenting deficits in children from high-stress backgrounds forever,” said Bruce Ellis, a psychology professor at the University of Utah ... “We fill libraries with all the things that are wrong with them. But this paper was the first systematic attempt to understand what was right with them.” Switching between tasks isn’t the only cognitive enhancement that a difficult childhood can bring about. In a forthcoming paper in the Perspectives on Psychological Science, a team of researchers led by Ellis reviewed a number of studies that found boosts in various types of thinking among people from harsh or unstable backgrounds.

It's hard to make sweeping statements about this research, because it's so new. That said, this is further evidence that applying a "deficit mindset" to children - whatever backgrounds they come from - is counterproductive. Should we hold all students to high standards? Of course. Do different backgrounds have a differential effect on school performance? Of course. Is it the educational system's responsibility to adapt to those challenges, find the unique strengths in each child, and help all students achieve those high standards? Of course.

Finally today, Rahawa Halle is in Outside, sharing a first-person account of hiking the Appalachian Trail as a Black woman:

It will be several months before I realize that most AT hikers in 2016 are unaware of the clear division that exists between what hikers of color experience on the trail (generally positive) and in town (not so much). While fellow through-hikers and trail angels are some of the kindest and most generous people I’ll ever encounter, many trail towns have no idea what to make of people who look like me. They say they don’t see much of “my kind” around here and leave the rest hanging in the air.  The rule is you don’t talk about politics on the trail. The truth is you can’t talk about diversity in the outdoors without talking about politics, since politics is a big reason why the outdoors look the way they do. From the park system’s inception, Jim Crow laws and Native American removal campaigns limited access to recreation by race. From the mountains to the beaches, outdoor leisure was often accompanied by the words whites only. The repercussions for disobedience were grave.

I loved this story for a bunch of reasons. In particular,  it does a beautiful job of capturing how thoroughly the history of race and racism manifests in activities that White people perceive to be totally blasé and quotidian, but which are imbued with outsized complications for people of color. Read the whole thing, even if you don't normally read travelogues from backpackers. Have a great day!