Author Archives: Troy Smith

Troy: Can elitism and access coexist?

When I was 13, after several years of intensive preparation, I was offered scholarships to several of the top independent schools in the city – among them, my number one choice. Though I took pride in knowing my hard work paid off, at the very last minute, I declined the scholarships – disappointing many advisors who had become deeply invested in my academic journey over the years. Many could not understand how I could turn down such a wonderful opportunity. My rationale was simple – even if I was embarrassed to say it aloud at times: I was insecure about my family’s poverty. By my senior year of high school, I had become more comfortable with being poor and I committed to not making my college decision using the same criterion, and I ultimately selected a NESCAC school, like Jack Anthony. With that in mind, the chapters from The New Education by Cathy Davidson and The Privileged Poor by Anthony Jack resonate very strongly with me.

Anthony’s experiences and research elevate themes I recall from my undergraduate experience – understanding the nuances of both the privileged poor and doubly disadvantaged, to one extent or another. And Davidson’s passion for community colleges is impressive. Reading the anecdotes from President Mellow’s description of the LaGuardia Community College student experience is truly inspiring. Though I must say as a mathematician, I find the supposedly common anecdote taken from the 4-year institution with a dean of students stating, “Look to your left. Look to your right. Only one of you will be walking through graduation.” to be a little funny. It is  difficult to believe that, somehow, these same 4-year institutions the author previously mentioned being so concerned with their reputations expect to have a 33% graduation rate. Additionally, at one point, preceded by a mention of the lower acceptance rate from 2-year colleges than secondary schools to 4-year colleges,  the author states, “College for everyone faces formidable obstacles…” This made me wonder how the author defines college because it seems, based on everything that preceded this statement, that community colleges admitted almost all students and opened doors for so many. So, is college for everyone the issue? Or just 4-year college for everyone?

From these readings, the most important takeaways for me are:

  1. Selectivity is key for elitism (numbers do not lie).
  2. Social mobility is a key metric for community colleges, but, in many instances, it is social stability and social standing that are important for many students attending 4-year schools – especially elite ones. Stability and standing can be tough to measure.
  3. Davidson’s refence to mission reputation being the primary goal for 4-year institutions as opposed to student growth for community colleges is interesting.
  4. Community colleges have done an amazing job of creating access, which for many demographics that are underrepresented in higher education, is the biggest obstacle.

Troy – Austerity and, separately, CUNY graduation rates

In “Racialized Austerity: The Case of CUNY”, the authors, Michael Fabricant and Stephen Brier, define racialized austerity as, “…racialized and racist choices to deepen state disinvestment in institutions critical to the health and welfare of Black and brown communities…” – referencing, in particular the government’s tendency to be satisfied by simply creating access to public services for Black and brown, communities, regardless of their quality and divesting funds in services as they start to more serve the aforementioned demographics at increased levels. For CUNY, where up until the 1970’s, enrollment was overwhelmingly white (it is now about 70% Black and brown) and middle class, the city’s investment declined drastically as CUNY schools became more diverse, not coincidentally, the authors argue. This also coincided with, in 1971, the state requiring CUNY charge tuition to receive state support. Essentially, as more Black and brown students began to attend college, they were not afforded the same luxury of free tuition as their white predecessors. As the investment from the city and state level has dwindled in recent decades, the financial strain placed on the entire infrastructure is potentially compromising the quality of education students receive. Race needs to be an explicit consideration in any public policy decisions to combat the implicit and often ignored racism and biases that exist.

In “Low Four-Year CUNY Graduation Rate Linked to Limited Course Seats”, Afia Eama makes what I consider to be a not very compelling argument. On one hand, the author presents the issue of students not earning their 4-year degrees in that timeframe (30% earn their degrees within 4 years and 53% within 6) because of an inability to enroll in required classes, and on the other hand, early in the writing, mentions the solution to the problem. Eama writes a student, “eventually got in after emailing every professor teaching the course, in hopes of taking advantage of the overtally system that approves waitlisted students based on graduation priority.” So, is the issue that students are struggling to enroll in the proper classes, folks are not aware of this workaround, or the workaround needs to be modified to support more students? Certainly, access to the appropriate classes is a factor for some students not graduating on time, but there are also definitely other issues that need to be unmasked that are not referenced in the op-ed. College readiness, from both a cognitive and non-cognitive perspective, for incoming students is likely the biggest barrier to improved 4-year graduation rates. It is likely not a coincidence that so-called “elite” schools who admit students with a particular academic profile have high 4-year graduation rates. Additionally, the article identifies approximately 25% of students as non-traditional, who may not even be taking full course loads. The article eventually transitions to discuss how an insufficient number of academic advisors for students can lead to inaccurate information regarding degree requirements – leading to delays in graduating. This seems valid, however, overall, I feel the author could have done a better job of linking (as it is stated in the title) the lack of access to courses to graduation rates – particularly if the connection is as clear as the author implies.