College not just for the upper and middle classes

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The difficult, I'll do right now

The impossible, will take a little while

-Billie Holiday

There was a comment on another blog that just annoyed the crap out of me and continued to bug me. It insinuated that lower income kids can't go to college and that college only has middle and upper middle class kids running around it. My own and the experiences of friends proves that so wrong and I am so sick of that mindset. Also since this is Inshaw, the quick tie in to this is a) it's my blog and b) Shaw and other gentrifying neighborhoods have lower income kids, who may wind up going to college.

Let me start with my aunts and mom. They were girls, in the late 60s. The family was black and sharecroppers in rural North Carolina. My oldest aunt only had two dresses, everyone else got hand-me-downs. Not exactly rolling in dough. My aunts went to small black colleges and became teachers. They helped fund their education by working at colored resorts, one in NY state. Mom didn't go to college because grandpa, on his deathbed, asked her to take care of grandma. Mom did however, many years later went to community college and became a CNA.

For myself, I funded 1 BA, and 2 MAs with student loans, scholarships and grants. I went to state schools. I did work study. My parent's contribution was emotional support, some occasional pocket money, and a place to stay during the summer, but nothing that would begin to even touch the price of tuition, fees and used books.

The more I get to know some of my friends and neighbors I discover that they include people who also put themselves through college with a mix of loans and scholarships. A friend from a working class neighborhood in Texas got his PhD, did a little teaching, didn't get tenure, found another jobs, and in his late 40s finally paid off his student loan. It's the student loan stories that tip you off, as they set off a load of drama on their own.

Back to the neighborhood. There are a few kids, whose moms I guess (I haven't looked at their 1040s so who can say) are lower middle class, but factor in number of people in household, low income. Struggling but making enough to stay out of the social service loop of subsidized housing, food stamps, and other hurry up and wait for crumbs programs. According to HUD (whose site isn't providing an easy link to the data) in FY 2009 a 4 person household (think 1 mom 3 kids) making less than 64K is Low Income in the DC metro area. Three person, 57.6K. Any way the kids went to college. They haven't completed college, yet.

Do I know of any super-low income people who went to college? I keep wondering if the Baltimorean who lived in a van in the UMD-CP parking lot, and has referred to himself as white trash. Later got his degree from that college and now makes gobs more money than me.. does he count?

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3 Comments

i'd like to pimp out my alma mater, berea college. you HAVE to be poor to get accepted there. and its free if you get in.
no tuition at all.

it has its down sides sure, but FREE trumped it for me. its been turning poor folks into educated folks since 1855. and it was the 2nd college in the nation to accept black students.

http://www.berea.edu

i knew people from crazy low income backgrounds there. horribly crazy poor.

I am a contractor for the Department of Education's Federal Student Aid division, which administers the Title IV aid programs to promote college educations to people who could not otherwise afford it. I have heard people say that many parents, teachers and others tell children that they can't go to college. I have never encountered that myself, but the Federal Student Aid organization works to inform everyone, and especially under served populations, that they CAN go to college if the really want to. I understand why people would be upset with the message that lower income kids can't go to college. I would encourage people to check out http://college.gov to get inspired, and then http://studentaid.ed.gov to actually look into attending college if you believe it is beyond your reach.

I come from a large family, and my parents income was somewhere around $18K when I went to college about 20 years ago. I didn't get a penny from my folks, but was able to make it through four years by maxing out on all of the student aid available including workstudy, pell grants, and what amounted to about $20K in student debt. My High School English teacher can take the credit for pushing me to make this step telling me not to be afraid of taking out the loans because one day I would take out a loan bigger than this to buy a car. I lived on beans and rice, and envied my friends who got parent care packages and money from home.

It wasn't easy, but I did finish, and I paid off my loans several years later. My English teacher was right, and I thank her for helping me understand that poor kids could go to college.

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