Elite Colleges Perpetuating Educational Segregation and Income Inequality

Old_Main,_Vassar_College_edit1Houston           All of the evidence on income stratification in higher education indicates that elite colleges and universities continue to play a major role in accelerating inequality as cherished ghettos of the rich and guardians of society’s inside track.  It should come as no surprise that they are undoubtedly the least able to heal themselves and open their doors to lower income students and play a role in decreasing inequality.

            The scores are now in and they have failed on every count, if they were ever even trying to do the right thing, in recruiting lower income students.

In 2006, at the 82 schools rated “most competitive” by Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges, 14 percent of American undergraduates came from the poorer half of the nation’s families, according to researchers at the University of Michigan and Georgetown University who analyzed data from federal surveys. That was unchanged from 1982.  And at a narrower, more elite group of 28 private colleges and universities, including all eight Ivy League members, researchers at Vassar and Williams Colleges found that from 2001 to 2009, a period of major increases in financial aid at those schools, enrollment of students from the bottom 40 percent of family incomes increased from just 10 to 11 percent. 

Oh, and let’s be perfectly clear, this failure is not because there aren’t more than enough fully qualified potential applicants.   In “… fact… there are many high school seniors from low-income homes with top grades and scores: twice the percentage in the general population as at elite colleges.”  Reading this piece in the New York Times, was mainly an exercise in allowing many of the experts and college presidents a chance to make excuses and rationalizations for the failure.  Basically, they claim the the dog ate their homework. 

The biggest dog was the barking dollar which had all of them by the collar.  They are elite and high status partially because they have a financial structure that advertises exactly that kind of exclusivity with a price tag to match.  They whined that the financial formula was such that to provide the amount of financial subsidy to genuinely recruit more lower income students they would need roughly one million dollars in endowment for every $45 or $50,000 worth of subsidy.  This kind of vicious financial circle was going to bite someone’s butt, and it wasn’t going to be theirs was the bottom line of their message, so to heck with the poor.

I’ve jumped on this soapbox before and argued that to make real change requires outreach.  I’ve even recommended that these colleges connect with community organizations, like ACORN working in these communities, to act as feeders of talent and support to populate their student bodies.  Probably sounds a little bit like allowing class struggle and a mini-revolution to come in the front door past the ivy covered gates, but darned if the President of Vassar didn’t shame her colleagues by calling them out:

“You can make big statements about being accessible, and have need-blind admissions and really low net prices for low-income kids, but still enroll very few of those low-income kids, by doing minimal outreach,” said Catharine Bond Hill, president of Vassar College. “There has to be a commitment to go out and find them.”

Talk is cheaper than actually doing the work, enrolling lower income students, and paying the bills in the fight against inequality, so unless there’s a lot more of action of the type that Hill is calling for, another 30 years will go by without much change except that these same schools will be even more stratified as playgrounds and proving grounds for the rich, high born and insider trackers of America.


Is the Web Anti-Women?

Fotor0114170437-700x325Houston     Eventually as the evidence mounts, you have to wonder whether the internet is stacked up against women.

You can look at the gatekeepers in the pantheons of tech in Silicon Valley. Recently released employment statistics at Apple are representative and there 80% of the hires are men, and not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s largely white and Asian men.

The class action lawsuit on the conspiracy between Google, Apple, and others to restrict the movement of their engineers to work for other companies was so egregious that the judge rejected the $324 million class action settlement as too cheap for the conspiracy involved that emanated right from the top with Steve Jobs on down as they hoped to impress labor on their own plantations without escape. These mobility restrictive practices couldn’t have helped women, and sexual discrimination charges in the Valley from women who were denied the right to claim the status of co-founders when they stopped dating other co-founders, just underscores the point.

Then let’s talk about “trolling” and the hidey-holes for misogynists and general haters on Twitter and elsewhere that hound women specifically and regularly. Recent attention came as Zelda Williams, Robin Williams’ daughter, jumped off Twitter because of the grossness directed her way around her father’s unfortunate suicide. A headline talked of “incivility growing,” but “incivility” may just be a soft substitute for what is really nothing other than hate, but because it involved attacks on women more than men, a euphemism was used.

I’m not saying there’s a conspiracy, but I can draw a line between various points. When access to the internet is restricted by cost and profiteering so that inequality accelerates the poverty of all, but disproportionately women and children more than others, and when women are routinely blocked from progress in technology and victimized on the web, I start to wonder what’s really going on here, no matter what the “lean-in” rationalizers have to say.

One of the few places where women seem to be kicking butt is actually on Kickstarter. I read recently that projects initiated by women significantly lead those started by men, largely observers speculate because women want to see other women succeed and therefore support them. Although I wouldn’t be shocked to find that is just what men are saying. It could be that the women’s projects are simply better. Period.

It’s a nasty world for women, so it’s sad, but not surprising, to see how much of what we find in the streets is also populating the internet highway. Twitter claims they are manually trying to keep up with the trolls, but you just know that won’t work.

The companies that succeed will be the ones that allow speech, but also protect secure spaces. In the meantime the tech community needs to get a grip on this problem in dealing well with women, since as the Chinese expression goes, they “hold up half the world,” or as we know in the USA, way more than that.

The Toronto Star Supports ACORN’s Digital Access Opportunity Campaign

11806302.JPGNew Orleans               In a Canada-wide day of action, ACORN used the occasion of children heading back to school to hit the major, monopoly internet companies, demanding low cost access to internet.   The Toronto Star editorially supported the campaign, and their arguments were excellent, which I’ll share.

Breaking down the digital divide for lower-income families: Editorial

Major broadband carriers can play a role in breaking down socio-economic barriers in education.

Published on Sun Aug 17 2014 – Toronto Star

A lot of time, study, and money has been spent making sure lower-income kids receive a good education.

But a new barrier threatens to divide the haves from the have-nots at school — and later on in their careers.

It’s a lack of access to home computers and affordable, fast connections to the Internet. In 2012, almost 98 per cent of the top income households were connected to the Internet, compared to only 58 per cent of those earning less than $30,000.

A home computer and Internet connection may sound like a luxury, but study after study shows it’s a necessity to help kids from lower-income families keep up at school.

Pew Research, a leading U.S. think-tank, found that 56 per cent of teachers face a “major challenge” incorporating more digital tools into their teaching, because of low-income kids’ lack of access. And 84 per cent of teachers agree digital technologies are leading to greater disparities between affluent and disadvantaged schools and school districts.

A London School of Economics study found providing home Internet access to low income households closes the gap in use, “potentially reducing disadvantage.” It also found kids who have Internet access at home spend more time online, providing them with “higher levels of online skills and self-efficacy.”

Interestingly, home computers may also keep kids out of trouble. A PCs for People study found kids who can connect to the Internet at home were 6 to 8 per cent more likely to graduate from high school than those who couldn’t. Why? Simply by giving them something constructive to do that engages their interest. It’s a source of entertainment, as well as an educational opportunity.

All of this is why ACORN Canada (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), which represents low- and moderate-income families, is holding back-to-school “actions” across the country this coming week.

Plans include setting up fake Internet cafés outside Bell Canada offices in Toronto and forming a line-up from the Ottawa Public Library to Parliament Hill with three goals in mind. The first is to highlight the problem. The second is to ask the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to invest in breaking down the digital divide for low income kids (as they recently did for rural Canadians). The pressure broadband providers to create $10-a-month Internet connection packages for all low-income families. It’s not a pipedream.

Rogers Communications, to its credit, rolled out a $10 connection program in 2013 for 58,000 low-income families living in Toronto Community Housing.

Educators are stepping in, too. Peel District School Board, for example, partnered with computer companies to provide low-cost tablets and refurbished computers to low-income families and now is reaching out to Internet providers “to level the playing field,” says Carla Pereira, acting manager of communications.

That’s because teachers recognize libraries can’t fill the gap.

Ashley Morris, a single mum of a 7-year-old Owen and 2-year-old Charlotte, proves the point. When Owen has homework to do, she lugs both kids to the library through a “not great neighbourhood” at night. Even then, Owen may have to line up to use the computer and it doesn’t give him time for other creative activities.

Using computers is not just about doing homework, but about “a growing experience with using technology and supporting learning in other ways,” says Heather Mathis, the acting director of Toronto’s branch libraries.

ACORN’s protests should prompt Canada’s major Internet connectors — companies such as Rogers, Bell, Telus, and TekSavvy — to work out programs for low-income families to narrow the digital divide.

It’s not just an investment in young people, but one in Canada’s future economic competitiveness. Let’s get our kids connected. All of them.


The Missing Link in UK Community Work: Leadership Development and Doorknocking

DSCF0006New Orleans     Colleagues from the University of Glasgow were visiting New Orleans from Scotland, so we couldn’t miss the opportunity to have them over for a Fair Grinds Dialogue on community development, community organizing, and, what the heck, the coming vote on independence in Scotland.  Dave Beck, is a lecturer in community development at the University, and Rod Purcell is director of the community engagement program there, so these were folks that knew their way around the community issues.  I knew them originally from their visits with ACORN operations in Delhi and Mumbai, which found their way into an interesting book published last year, International Community Organising:  Taking Power, Making Change, as well as their having me as a guest lecturer for a standing room only crowd in Glasgow earlier in the year.

They covered a host of fascinating topics and those in attendance largely used the session to try to get a handle on what was really happening in the United Kingdom on everything from the austerity program to welfare benefits.  There were two fascinating observations they offered though that provoked a lot of questioning and that surprised those in attendance.   One was about doorknocking and the other about leadership development, although both were really about the lack thereof.

Dave and Rod told a number of amusing stories along the lines of “what are you crazy,” that would greet any suggestion that they had made in the UK to community workers or labor unions about whether or not they might be more effective in making direct contact by doorknocking.  Nothing unusual really about any of that, since it’s the first reaction of almost everyone everywhere in virtually every country and city in the world, until they see how effective and skilled the practice and methodology really is.  Most of the resistance was of the kneejerk kind, “Oh, no one wants you to come to their home,” and so forth.

More surprising was their observation that leadership development, a foundational emphasis in most United States community organizing, and certainly ACORN’s, is virtually nonexistent in the United Kingdom.  Beck and Purcell argued that the more normal situation was the existence of countless “community representatives” appointed by various councils and public authorities to speak for the community or the constituency, who in Beck’s words were lucky if they had any base, and “if they had a base, it was hardly 1% of the community.”  Certainly this kind of tokenism and top-down structure of participation was common in the US as well until the movement and organizational upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s forced different requirements around participation in many communities to establish more genuine leadership rather than simply anointed and appointed gatekeepers.

Beck and Purcell believed that this void largely came from a deep seated political and cultural perspective that positioned the local council and the state in general as the source of services and goods where the public had expectations that were a matter of entitlement and rights, rather than something triggered by participation, much less pressure and collective action.  They gave a number of examples in housing organizing in the council flats where when facing public cutbacks it took years for residents to recognize that there was desertion by public officials and authorities, and that they were going to be forced to organize to take over the flats in various schemes and abandon expectations of improvements.  Having no tradition of leadership development and similar grassroots engagement at the base, these transitions are lengthy and difficult in the UK according to Beck and Purcell.

We were all fascinated, even if somewhat shocked, but also convinced we might be able to make a contribution in filling this void in the UK as well from ACORN’s decades of experience in leadership development.

Stop the Militarization of Local Police Departments

11129568566_505d15bc38_oNew Orleans     The aftermath of tragic violence and protest in Ferguson, Missouri has reignited recognition of the continuing racial divide in the United States. It is hardly a surprise that African-Americans and whites continue to see things so differently, but while searching for an area where there is high agreement, I think I’ve found one. Both whites and blacks oppose the extreme militarization of local police forces!

Of course the opposition is not exactly the same. According to polling 65% of whites believe that military grade weaponry should be kept with the military, while 80% of blacks believe that, but any way you slice it, the public seems to have a high level of consensus that they would rather hope that the police are there to protect them, rather than worrying about whether they are in danger from the police.

I also call New Orleans home where this is not just a sensitive issue in the community, but an article of faith that people are well advised to give the police a wide berth. Recently a 17-year prison sentence for a former police officer was reaffirmed by the courts for his having burned a dead, post-Katrina victim of a police shooting in a car along the Mississippi River levee. Long heeded advice from parents to children and residents to tourists has been to make sure that if they witness a policeman beating someone in the French Quarter do not get involved, or you will also go to jail. In recent years, the district police station was located down the block on my street while their flooded station was rebuilt. Weeks ago, we all felt safer when they moved. The only good thing I saw in the chart of where military surplus had been distributed was that the New Orleans police department seemed to have only received night vision goggles. If they actually look before they shoot, that would indeed be a gift here.

Why in the world would Randolph County, Arkansas need a military airplane? What possible need could they have for such a piece of equipment? Randolph County is in the northeastern part of the state. Pocahontas is the largest city, but it’s not large. There are only 17,000 people that live in the whole county, abutting the Missouri state line. 96% of the county is white. Are they thinking about seceding from the state of Arkansas? What possibly could be their plan?

New Mexico ended up with more than forty anti-mine, armored vehicles, topping Texas with thirty-six. Is this what Governor Rick Perry and others think might be useful in stopping refugee children coming to the border?

You have to wonder how many SWAT teams we need to have, dressed in full-military gear. Are police preparing for the “zombie apocalypse” already? What type of officers are we trying to recruit with these war zone fantasies replacing the mission of community policing and public safety?

The ubiquity of SWAT teams has changed not only the way officers look, but also the way departments view themselves. Recruiting videos feature clips of officers storming into homes with smoke grenades and firing automatic weapons. In Springdale, Ark., a police recruiting video is dominated by SWAT clips, including officers throwing a flash grenade into a house and creeping through a field in camouflage.

When 68% of the American people agree on anything these days, especially in the racially charged atmosphere of Ferguson, it should not only be cause for celebration but an urgent cry for immediate action. The consensus from black and white is that the federal government needs to stop enabling the militarization of local police departments, and they need to step back from some of their gung-ho, GI-Joe stuff, and look harder at protect-and-serve, rather than shoot-to-kill with the bombs bursting.

Continuing Confusion on Companies and Affordable Care: Walmart Example

walmartNew Orleans            Reading continuing reports on the number of people seeking coverage directly in the marketplace or through their employers under the Affordable Care Act makes it clear in many fundamental ways, people still don’t get some of the dimensions of the healthcare contradictions.  Nothing made the case for this argument more conclusively than a column in “The Upshot” in the Times about more Walmart workers signing up for the company’s plan.

In an earnings call, Walmart announced that there had been a significant increase in the number of its workers who signed up for health insurance. Given that it is the nation’s largest private sector employer with over a million workers, we would hope that’s a good thing. They were warning stockholders because the increased participation would tally about a half-billion in additional costs.

What does that really mean?

Well, if they are paying a bargain price of $2500 per year, a tad over $200 per month for employee-only coverage, then perhaps 200,000 workers signed up for the company’s coverage due to the individual mandate. Of the 1.3 million workers Walmart says that it employs in the US that would mean an additional 15% of the company’s workforce enrolled, and let’s keep calling that good news.

What is left unsaid is what the percentage of participation might have been before the mandate began coming into play requiring coverage. My experience organizing Walmart workers would have held that participation earlier could not have even been 15%, so perhaps with this self-reported “surge” of enrollment in the company plan, the total participation is now 30% of the workforce or 400,000 of the 1.3 million workers. Hey, let’s be liberals, which we are not, and say that a quarter of the workforce previously had been on the plan and the numbers are now up to 40% or a bit more than 520,000 workers. We’re searching for real progress here, remember?

Any way you slice it, almost 800,000 are NOT covered by the company’s plan. Some, as we know, make so little money that they would be covered under state and federal programs that were income qualified, saving the company money and transferring the costs to the government. In this discussion we’re OK with that if it means that the workers have healthcare. No way to know how many workers that might be though. Another 200,000? Maybe even 400,000? Either way, a lot of workers will still have nada.

Meanwhile, here’s the hurting thing. Walmart is clear that the increased enrollment did NOT “come because of a more generous company policy.” Gulp, the old policy pretty much sucked, and the old boss here is the new boss still, meaning workers have a relatively low, qualifying monthly premium under 8.5% of their gross income, and relatively high deductible and general coverage plan.

These other 400 or 500,000 workers are likely “stuck like Chuck,” trying to figure out a way to get other coverage or pay the fine for not having any, and since Walmart offers this no-frills health plan, they are also barred from getting any subsidies from the federal or state marketplaces and any cost sharing.

Only in a country where something is better than nothing, is any of this report really within a mile of being good news.