[Paleopsych] NYT: (Class) Life Without a College Degree (6 Letters)

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Life Without a College Degree (6 Letters)

    To the Editor:

    Re "The College Dropout Boom" ("Class Matters" series, front page, May

    You comment that New York and some other states are linking higher
    education dollars to graduation rates rather than simply to
    admissions. This is yet another recipe for a collapse of standards
    because of pressures to pass students without requiring proof of

    Such policies affect the functioning within institutions where
    departments give high grades to entice enrollments and thus enhance
    their financing and faculty lines (students vote with their feet).

    Departments where the average course grades approach 3.5 are dishonest
    and illustrate the failure of faculty to distinguish between those
    students who are capable and those who are not.

    At CUNY senior colleges, we often see community college graduates and
    transfers with high averages, yet fundamental knowledge is lacking.
    These 3-plus cumulative averages are meaningless and do little but
    provide the student with a false sense of accomplishment.

    Yes, the institutions may receive their financing, but at what cost?

    Peter C. Chabora
    Flushing, Queens, May 24, 2005
    The writer is a biology professor at Queens College, CUNY.

    To the Editor:

    Here's an idea to create an additional incentive for elite colleges to
    recruit working-class students: Why doesn't U.S. News & World Report
    revise its highly influential rankings to give greater weight to
    economic diversity in the student body as a measure of the academic
    quality of the institution?

    Most people who use the rankings just jump to the list. They won't
    notice that methodological change, but they and certainly the colleges
    will notice if their ranking drops.

    It's a simple change that could help lead to a stronger meritocracy in
    this country by giving more Americans the chance to pursue that
    crucial college degree.

    Izzat Jarudi
    Washington, May 24, 2005

    To the Editor:

    As a financial aid student at Yale and a leader in the recent
    successful campaign for financial aid reform there, I believe that
    universities' recent moves to provide increased financial support to
    low-income students are admirable.

    At Yale, pressure from students, alumni, workers and community members
    impelled administrators to act, just as similar pressure led to the
    admission of women, blacks and other underrepresented groups to many
    schools in the past.

    But if universities are truly to take on what Lawrence H. Summers, the
    president of Harvard, calls "the most serious domestic problem in the
    United States today," then changes to financial aid are not enough.

    Until the children of university employees can afford the education
    their parents make possible, universities will be not a "powerful
    weapon" of change but preservers of class inequality.

    Phoebe Rounds
    New Haven, May 24, 2005

    To the Editor:

    As a working-class girl who was able to graduate from an elite liberal
    arts college and to complete a Ph.D. at an Ivy League university, I
    know both the extraordinary blessings and some deep personal costs of
    a class-changing college education.

    Nevertheless, your article reflects another class bias in seeming to
    suggest that the only good education is one gained at an elite

    I have taught at CUNY for more than 20 years, and the best students
    here match up with those I have taught and met at elite institutions
    around the country.

    Almost all of our students are first-generation college attendees,
    though. Ironically, they need even more the support that permeates
    middle-class kids' lives and gets reinforced in college dormitories.

    The class change for our students has to be negotiated every day as
    they go from their families, who may not fully understand their
    college experience, to our campuses, where we are bringing them to
    another way of looking at the world.

    I admire our students' accomplishments every day; I just wish that we
    did not try to measure their success by the same standards that apply
    to more privileged institutions.

    Public support for urban higher education is an investment in
    preserving a humane and diverse public.

    Joan C. Tronto
    New York, May 24, 2005
    The writer is a political science professor at Hunter College, CUNY.

    To the Editor:

    You suggest that the outlook for so-called college dropouts is gloomy,
    explaining that less than half of low-income students graduate within
    five years and saying that while many who leave college plan to
    return, few actually do.

    But conventional time intervals for tracking students are a big part
    of the problem.

    Twenty-year follow-up data analyzed by me and Paul Attewell on
    low-income students in a national survey demonstrate that graduation
    rates calculated after even six years would classify as dropouts many
    students who eventually earn degrees.

    More than a quarter of B.A. earners needed more than six years to
    cross the academic finish line. Forty percent of these delayed-degree
    recipients took 11 or more years.

    Tracking periods are increasingly out of touch with the realities of
    college-going today.

    Many low-income students leave college so that they can work to defray
    tuition costs and/or support families. But they often return and in
    time complete their degrees.

    David E. Lavin
    New York, May 25, 2005
    The writer is a sociology professor at the City University Graduate

    To the Editor:

    As an adjunct professor at a four-year liberal arts college that is 10
    minutes from Chilhowie, Va., the focus of your article, I would
    emphasize the role of local culture that instills in many students in
    southwest Virginia just one kind of knowledge: the knowledge that they
    cannot succeed.

    As they struggle with tuition, academics and new ideas, these students
    are not buoyed by the determination to become the first in their
    families to graduate from college. Rather, with regard to higher
    education, they often embrace a fatalism that is part of family
    tradition and local custom.

    Claudia Keenan
    Abingdon, Va., May 25, 2005

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