30 July 2011

Remembering Some Of My First Students

Reading the scamblogs got me to thinking about some of the first students I taught.

I was supplementing the paltry paycheck from my graduate assistantship by teaching in another nearby university.  Specifically, I was teaching night courses in that university's extension program, which offered classes in community centers and other public places in inner-city neighborhoods.

Those students, most of whom were older than I was, were members of ethnic and racial "minorities." And, in the first class I taught in that program, they were all women.  Subsequent classes were predominantly female.  More to the point, most were getting some or all of their tuition paid by a program that began with the premise that enrolling such students in college would motivate them toward success.  

If nothing else, being in school was probably an improvement over the circumstances under which many of the students had been living.  Some had been in rehab; many of the female students came from homeless and battered women's shelters.  A few of the students had been in prison.  A large number, if not the majority, had GEDs:  One female student had earned hers at age 45, less than a year before.

Although I very much enjoyed the students, as people, at times working with them could be frustrating.  The main reason for that was their lack of academic as well as life skills.  That is the main reason why most of the students either flunked or dropped out.  Try as they might, they simply had gaps in their educations and work histories that mitigated against possible success.   For some of those students, those gaps were exacerbated, or even caused by, substance abuse and related problems.  

The following year, I was teaching in another college that had a similar program.  And--you guessed it--a large portion of those students had also been my students at my previous university.   

I know that, for some of those students, tuition and other costs weren't at issue, for they were paid by the program--which, I believe, was under the auspices of the State government.  But both of the schools I mentioned are private; one of them charged a tuition that was even higher than that of an Ivy League university in the area.  

Now I find myself thinking about how much money the Government spent to keep those students in those schools. And, even if their tuition was paid for, they were incurring other costs that weren't paid for by the program.  

That was nearly two decades ago.  I wonder whether any of those students are still paying for the costs they incurred.  And I wonder how much it cost to send them to school--and whether and how much we are still paying for it.  

Even more to the point, I wonder whether any of those students graduated, or simply moved on.


  1. I have seen a similar thing happen in Detroit public schools.

    In 2008, the REPORTED graduation rate was 24.9%. I don't believe it is that high, but I'll give the administration the credit!

    The Detroit public schools spend about $15k per student, per year. They have a reported budget of $1.2 billion and about 84,000 students.

    It therefore costs about $195,000 to send a student from kindergarten to 12th grade. But only 25% graduate. So you have to FOUR students go through the grinder to get one "successful" graduate. So Detroit is spending maybe $780k to get a person with a high school diploma.

    Is this worth it? Given the high level of unemployment, will a typical Detroit public school graduate even earn that much money in their lifetime?

    I would therefore propose that primary education not be compulsory beyond 4th grade.

    If people don't want to go to school, why should we force them?

  2. I'm a lecturer (teaching English comp.) at a state university in the midwest and see a lot of the same issues. Many students from urban backgrounds come in with little understanding of why they're there, poor academic preparation, and underdeveloped study habits and life skill. This isn't exclusive to urban students, but more common among them. Anyone with a 3.0 from an "underperforming" high school in the state gets a full scholarship, and actually most people in that program do OK, but a lot of others who are getting less, but some, financial aid don't. And many of them accumulate loan debt they may never pay off if they leave without a degree or with a degree that isn't worth much.

    My school instituted higher admissions standards last year, bur rescinded them (back to open admission) when enrollment went down. I guess we know whose interests are primary.