Socio-economic status

Posted on December 2, 2008. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Given our current economic climate and my experiences working with and for people who are at the poverty line, I have a hard time deciding how I identify in these regards. That being said, I know that my upbringing has had a huge effect on how I view the world and how I view education. I was raised in what I will call a middle to upper middle class home. Both of my parents were elementary school teachers and while I never went without the things I needed, I also remember feeling like I was always playing catch up for the things I wanted, like the newest soccer bag or latest video game. Despite my parents average incomes there was always enough money to go on summer vacations, pay for my ski lessons and soccer clubs and go to movies and restaurants fairly often. More importantly, my parents, grandparents and even great grand parents saved enough money to give me the greatest gift I have ever received:  my college education.

I did not have to take out a single loan or work a single hour during the school year in order to pay for my undergraduate degree (that included participating in Semester at Sea). This has impacted me in numerous ways. On the positive end, it freed me up to participate in programs such as AmeriCorps, American Conservation Experience and even graduate school without concern for how I was going to pay off loans. It provided me with ample time to get involved and volunteer on campus and allowed me to choose summer jobs I wanted to do, instead of ones I had to do. Having gotten my education for “free”, I balanced between being obligated to use my degree right away and not having to use it at all. On the whole, I think that this benefited me and once again provided me with freedom I would have had otherwise.

On the negative side, it created a self-imposed amount of time I could stay in school and therefore greatly influenced my decision to stick with my original major. My biggest concern about how this gift and the economic identity tied up in it affects my professional life is that it has left me uable to personally understand the sacrifices that others make in order to attend college. I have never put a price tag on my undergraduate or graduate education, nor have I had to give up a great deal in order to receive it. I think this puts me at a disadvantage when working with students who are paying for their education on their own.

In order to address this disadvantage, I must recognize the wisdom and perspective to be gained from listening to the stories I hear from students who are sacrificing a great deal to get their education. The experiences must serve as a guide to understanding a world I have not personally walked in.


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One Response to “Socio-economic status”

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Great post. I come from a similar family background and had a similar experience with my undergraduate education. My wife and I were talking about this topic the other day, and we were counting our blessings relative to the students we encounter in our work today. While we both worked during our undergraduate programs, we worked on campus as tutors during the school year. We were in school in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, and we had to think quite awhile to come up a significant number of peers in our circle who actually worked off campus during the school year.

I didn’t take out a loan until graduate school. I relished my higher education, but I never had to worry about getting it. I still struggle sometimes to transcend a myopia when I encounter students for whom higher education is an extreme financial sacrifice. I fight a ingrained urge to judge that student who is carrying a significant balance on his/her account. I cringe at the thought that one of my advisees, who is miserable at OSU and whose greatest desire is to transfer to a school closer to home, is forced to stay at OSU because he can’t top the aid package he gets from OSU. My inclination is to think, “Well just pay your bill,” and “Leave if that is what you truly want to do,” but that is too simplistic and doesn’t account for the gravity that is pulling on those students.

I came to the realization early in my advising career, after substantial exploration of and reflection on race, class, gender, sexuality, and spirituality, that this is a scenario, among many others, where I have not been on that same playing field, or at least nowhere near the same degree. Putting aside the exponential rise in the cost of college, my context is always going to be as a (privileged) third party — “I had a high school friend who…” or “Another advisee I worked with was in that situation and…” I can feel for the student, problem solve with the student, emotionally support the students — but I have not truly been there.

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