Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Student Citizens

This post was originally titled Student Activists, but it didn't quite fit what I've been thinking about. I needed a word with a different connotation; something that didn't give me the mental image of protests and police barriers. It started with student activists because of the protests at Gallaudet, and we've been learning about Berkeley and the Free Speech Movement in History of Higher Ed, but as I was writing, I found myself straying off to explain why any student should not be a student activist because they should be students first and foremost. Let me explain. We've all seen the Disney sports movie where the coach says, "they are student athletes ... student comes first." The dilemma is that English just doesn't work that way (and Jen is more then welcome to back me up or correct me). In English the adjectives and descriptive terms come before the subject. So a minority student is a student who is a minority and a student activist is an activist who is a student. I think it's great for students to be passionate about issues and to stand up for what they believe in, but they shouldn't be defined as activists. They are not here to change the world, they are here to learn how to change the world.

So why then did I accept Student Citizen? Because we can't help but be citizens first and foremost. Activist or not, passionate or not, student or not, we are citizens. Citizens of the university, the community, the state, or the country it doesn't matter; citizenry defines us. More and more, I'm seeing students so caught up in the role of student that they forget they are citizens. I'm included in the guilty party. When Benjamin Franklin wrote the founding documents for the Academy of Philadelphia he wanted an institution that would create good citizens. He wanted an experience that would teach students their power within and their responsibility to their government both federal and local. Has that gotten lost somewhere along the way?

In an NPR interview one of the student leaders from Gallaudet was asked, "Could students on this campus get as excited about the war in Iraq as, say, they were in protesting the choice of a president for their campus?" He replied, "I'm not so sure if they would, only because you know that's more of a Democrat/Republican thing. I don't know. Maybe we're too focused on our own community here." He continued to comment on the oppression that the students on campus were feeling. How do we reconnect students to the world? I presented for a class on election day and one of the students was working to convince the class that their vote was not worth the energy it took to cast it. I know he wasn't serious, but I've heard all of his arguments before. How can we return the image of voting to a right instead of an obligation? Programs like Rock the Vote have improved student turn out, but we need to go further. I don't want students failing classes because they spend too much time at sit ins and protests, but concern and attachment to the world beyond campus borders shouldn't is vital. The actions that are taken while a student is in college will define the world that she enters after graduation.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Research after the Rant.

As I talked about earlier, the cost of college has been an issue for a long time. Things are just getting worse. Tuition is going up and Pell funding is going down as the criteria for eligibility changes. Fortunately, they didn't need me to tell them to start dealing with it. Here are several new approaches that are being taken towards financial aid:

A New Way for Need Based Aid This article talks about the program that Oregon is called a 'shared responsibility' plan. Students will be expected to pay the equivalent of what they could earn working full time during the summer and up to 12 hours a week while in class(Oregon's minimum wage is currently $7.50) for a community college. For a four year institution they will be expected to take out a loan for some of the additional costs. Student's families are also expected to contribute their portion as outlined by federal financial aid methodology. Oregon will pay what is left over.

This plan was developed after a committee polled citizens about starting an endowment and received negative reactions. The people who spoke out said that they didn't want to give students a sense of entitlement, and that higher education was a privilege not a right. This way students can prove themselves and earn their education.

I am troubled by this plan and it probably has a lot to do with my financial/academic history. I had a full ride to college that was a combination of need and merit based aid, so I earned part of my aid. However, the work I did to earn my scholarship was on school work, and it was my expectation that the work I would do here would be on school work. College is supposed to be a full time job. For every hour of class I’m suppose to spend 2 to 3 hours outside of class studying. This program is requiring students to have 1 ⅓ jobs if their parents or spouses are contributing. The article wasn’t clear about whether the family contribution was necessary to receive the funding or if it was just part of the calculation for how much the funding would be awarded. Another issue I have with this program is that they are setting the program up on students’ potential earnings. Do the students still have to pay tuition at the beginning of the school year? Has anyone taken into account the additional hours the student will have to work for living expenses? Are programs going to be put in place to ensure that students can find and maintain a minimum wage job? What about a full time job? What about the holiday breaks are students no longer going to be able to visit home for fall and spring break because they need to make those 12 hours that week?

Student is an occupation. Students are showing their responsibility by being successful on campus. I don’t think that they should have to prove their worth in any other way especially knowing that part time jobs have been shown to have negative impacts on student grades and involvement.

A different approach is coming from the University of Washington. Everyone who qualifies for Pell Grants or need based state aid will have their tuition and fees paid for by the university. A capital campaign is currently underway to raise funds and the program will be implemented at all of the University of Washington campuses. This plan is following the lead of some private colleges, but unlike their plans UW will not be covering room and board. Since the criteria is that they be eligible for other aid, students will be expected to use that aid for housing.

I suppose that it's a bit obvious that I support this program more. I don't have anything at all against giving away education. The GI Bill has proven that education is simply good for the country. In the most basic and measurable sense, if we educate people, they get better jobs. With those better jobs they make more money. When they make more money they spend more money and pay more taxes. Now we'll just have to develop a better system for determining need.

Its degrees that we shouldn't be giving away, but grade inflation should be a completely different post.