Thursday, November 15, 2012

Good old student debt: now it's effecting the middle class

And people are up in arms about it. The fact, though, is that none of this is particularly new. It's not like we lived in a utopia where everything was affordable and, horror of horrors, something changed, making it completely unaffordable to many people. For folks who are working class and minorities, the situation has gone from bad to bleak, while for the middle class it's put another crimp in their self-victimization mentality. Self-victimization? Did I forget to mention....everyone in college is poor, right?

That's the modus operandi that you'll find everywhere from the most humble to the most elite institutions, and while there are quite a few people who actually don't have money who are there, colleges in the U.S. for a very long time have been class biased about who gets to go there, and lots of the people who claim to be poor are actually lying.

There are two broad classes of people in college: folks who earned their place through hard work and competition, who managed to get there because of their actual merits, and those who got relatively mediocre grades but whose parents have money. Lots of folks who are in college in the U.S. who are "poor" are actually slackers whose parents are financing their education and who are actually quite privileged, people who because they don't have a complete free ride but have a part time job, for instance, invent stories of victimization and hardship to make them seem like they're actually suffering for their education.....while they take a similar, apathetic, attitude to their studies in college.

Meanwhile, there are folks who actually work hard and who don't have those privileges, who really do suffer, but, since everyone is poor in college, they're just part of the crowd. None of which is to say that folks who come from more privileged backgrounds never actually earn their place, or that they're never hard workers, or don't take their studies seriously, but the trend is clear: you can only slack off in college if you have money, otherwise you'd be taking classes at a community college and delivering pizzas.

In terms of class, and how class bias is just assumed to be part of the deal, Ann Arbor in Michigan is a great example. Home to the University of Michigan, it's one of the classic college towns, a very prestigious one as public universities go. As someone who grew up in Michigan, I know Ann Arbor quite well, and like it, but you'd be forgiven if you thought, driving through Ann Arbor without knowing that it was a college town, that it was a place where there were multiple country clubs and other elite institutions, that, in other words, it was a rich, upper class, suburban city. The reason it looks like that is simple: the people who are admitted to and go to U of M are disproportionately wealthy, in a way that bucks the trend of what the campus would look like if people who were qualified from all income brackets were admitted.

For some people, U of M is their dream school, something that they work very hard all their lives to get into. For other people, U of M is a fallback school just in case they don't get into someplace else.

So when the New York Times runs stories about student debt starting to be crushing, I have little doubt that beneath the platitudes is the concern that readers of the New York Times will now see their children be effected, as opposed to non-elite people who are only vaguely aware of the paper's existence. While folks who are really and totally, truly, impacted by the price increases, working class and minority students, have staged some very good protests in California, trying to keep a previously good system from shutting them out, a lot of the sound and fury is coming from families that have more money than that who are concerned that their kids will be the ones who will be de-classed, who will be shut out of the life that they previously thought they would automatically get.

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