A cautionary tale of students from lumpen proletariat American families (families that sell their labor but have no assets to speak of) in the New York Times recently:
Angelica Gonzales marched through high school in Goth armor — black boots, chains and cargo pants — but […] vowed to become the first in her family to earn a college degree.
“I don’t want to work at Walmart” like her mother, she wrote to a school counselor.
Weekends and summers were devoted to a college-readiness program, where her best friends, Melissa O’Neal and Bianca Gonzalez, shared her drive to “get off the island” — escape the prospect of dead-end lives in luckless Galveston.
That was four years ago. What happened and where are they now?
Angelica, a daughter of a struggling Mexican immigrant, was headed to Emory University. Bianca enrolled in community college, and Melissa left for Texas State University, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s alma mater.
“It felt like we were taking off, from one life to another,” Melissa said. “It felt like, ‘Here we go!’ ”
Four years later, their story seems less like a tribute to upward mobility than a study of obstacles in an age of soaring economic inequality. Not one of them has a four-year degree. Only one is still studying full time, and two have crushing debts. Angelica, who left Emory owing more than $60,000, is a clerk in a Galveston furniture store.
Each showed the ability to do college work, even excel at it. But the need to earn money brought one set of strains, campus alienation brought others, and ties to boyfriends not in school added complications. With little guidance from family or school officials, college became a leap that they braved without a safety net.
In other words, the promise of college is also the threat of college: leap the bar or lose access–for life!–to most of the better jobs in the United States. And the potholes along the college road are numerous:
- Mounting college debt.
- Distractions from the pop culture (Angelica’s “Goth armor,” television, no value placed on book reading, etc.).
- Distractions from side jobs to try to earn extra money.
- Campus alienation.
- Loser boyfriends not in college.
- No college educated mentors within families.
- No college educated mentors (a teacher, a councilor, a graduate student, etc.) on the college campus.
Who’s at fault here?