I'm sure some of you have seen this NYT article from 22 Dec. It deals with the difficulty associated with transitioning to college for low-income students, the widening education gap with respect to socioeconomic status, and tells the story of three low-income women who struggled significantly through the many nuances of what has become ubiquitous in our society today: a college education.

I imagine the WSO readership has a lot of different views on this topic and many responses to this article. Play nice, kids.

Full disclosure: I come from a similar background to the people described in the NYT article.

While reading this article, I have to say that I could fairly easily empathize with these young women. Everything relating to college is made infinitely easier if you had parents who went through the process in the US -- navigating through the application process, the transition, and the process of picking classes, getting the grades, and obtaining a diploma is really mentally and physically challenging if it's unfamiliar territory.

But that can be said for anything, right? It will always be easier if you have people around you to guide you, no matter what "it" is. Some people are born into families that can't offer such guidance -- or a network when looking for a job, for example -- tough luck...life is hard.

But when the "life is hard" mantra (a popular one on WSO) becomes so applicable to something that is now virtually required by society -- a college degree -- we might have a problem. It's tough to deny the fact that college is more likely to be roses and pink fuzzy bunnies if you're bankrolled by your parents than if you're trying to hold it together through loans, financial aid, the federal work-study program, and whatever other means possible. The added anxiety, uncertainty, and concern over what's happening at home can often be a very heavy burden for students to carry -- I know from personal experience that it wasn't easy to make the adjustment.

And while I know a lot of low-income kids who "made it", I also know an awful lot who went to college -- thinking they had just bitten into a fat slice of the American Dream -- only to have to drop out or struggle significantly due to family situations or finances. Some of us were lucky enough to have strong guidance counselors and mentors to help with the overly-complicated financial aid forms, and others -- like one of the girls described in the article -- weren't so lucky.

In any case, do you all think socioeconomic mobility is dying in the US? Supposedly, it is harder to move here than in Canada and most of Western Europe. Is college becoming a playground for America's wealthy, or is education still the great equalizer that everyone so righteously claims it is? What should universities do to help low-income students succeed -- the article makes it clear as day that often-times they don't?

Thanks for reading, and again, play nice, and happy holidays!

Comments (18)


In addition, upper-income parents, especially fathers, have increased their child-rearing time, while the presence of fathers in low-income homes has declined. Miss G. said there is a reason the triplets relied so heavily on boyfriends: "Their fathers weren't there." Says it all to me. This is the unintended consequence of the welfare state.

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It was an interesting article, one that I can relate to because, like many on here, we see this happening all around us. I know my pot will be criticized heavily, but I believe in this day and age, using the "we didn't have anyone to explain to us" excuse is just a pure sign of laziness.

I come from a family where neither of my parents went to college and my older sister is diagnosed schizophrenic, so a topic like this was as new to me as anyone else. But when everything around us could easily be learned with a little bit of effort spent on Google, I had no trouble getting up to speed with the financial aid process, what classes to take what not to take what I should avoid etc. EVERYONE has a guide, and that guide is the internet. Yes it is easier when you have parents or brothers/sisters who went through this who can sit down with you and help you through it, but doesn't mean you have no ways of learning.

I've watched quite a few videos on the student loan crisis, and I remember this was this one documentary I was watching where they were interviewing this girl who went to a no name liberal arts college, was going to graduate with 80k in debt and wasn't sure exactly what career path she wanted to take. The asked her are you worried about not being able to pay back your debt, and if not do you have a plan in place on what you are going to do after graduation? Her response: "Not really, I know it is a lot but I know I am working hard in college and in the end it will all work out. I'm not too worried."

That is the attitude I see represented in a lot of people that fall into the problems described in this article. There is a lot of motivation to go to college, take the classes, but there is no motivation to learn the process. My girlfriends brother is one of these...he graduated high school this past June, and he slacked off all summer even though HE KNEW he couldn't afford the tuition bill for college when it will come due, but he didn't do anything about it. He just kept on pushing it back. Then in early August, his tuition bill comes in the mail, and he asks my GF if she could help him fill out the financial aid form.

Now there are two reasons he didn't tackle the issue of financial aid when he still had the chance: 1) he legitimately did not know what to do about it, and 2) he was too lazy to figure out what to do about it while he still had chance.

Before the internet, it is understandable that you don't know anything about this process, and you don't know where to turn. But in today's world where 99% of the people have access to the internet, the only thing that is causing them to get "sidelined" or fall back, is their pure laziness on not to go on Google and learn about this issue.



Before the internet, it is understandable that you don't know anything about this process, and you don't know where to turn. But in today's world where 99% of the people have access to the internet, the only thing that is causing them to get "sidelined" or fall back, is their pure laziness on not to go on Google and learn about this issue.

Agree 100%. I have a relative who graduated from a no-name state university with 60k of debt and majors in English and criminal justice. She had this naive dream of teaching English to uneducated convicts and needless to say, it didn't pan out. After waitressing for a while, she's now in South Korea teaching English for $2000 a month.

I would add "stupidity" as the third reason people pursue unrealistic careers and get sidetracked in this internet age.

"It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer." - Albert Einstein


I dare everyone to read some articles on the insane number of hours Chinese students spending working and studying, as well as their genuine interest in learning the material, and not be pessimistic about this country's future.


Where I get annoyed about stuff like this is that a) my family was poor and I financed my way through school on a $9/hour labour job and b) I watched a lot of my friends at the bank of mom and dad just piss it all away. If you've got rich parents, yes it's easier, and if you don't then yes, it's harder. However, neither situtation is a guarentee to either success or failure.


I saw this article, and I relate to a lot of it. I hate to break out the "bootstraps" argument, but it can be done if you have the personal drive.

For instance, one girl in that article missed financial aid deadlines, and ended up taking out $40k in loans for one year. Then the university raised the assumed income level for her parents based on the rent they were paying (which was actually subsidized by the government in the aftermath of the hurricane). But the girl never advocated for herself.

I had a hell of a time trying to get my financial aid package worked out when my own mother would not turn over her tax returns for my financial aid package. I had a really horrible relationship with her, and was living independently from age 16 on. So of course my expected parental contribution should be $0, even before considering that she was living on ~$20k in government aid per year. But I repeatedly petitioned the financial aid office and eventually recruited a lawyer for advice; eventually, it was worked out.

And these girls repeatedly made terrible decisions...for instance, letting schoolwork suffer so they could do part-time jobs. I was admittedly a mediocre student with poor study habits, but I made it out with a 3.7.

And my own grandfather died after a long battle with cancer while I was attending college. Yes, it was hard to focus, and my grades dropped from As to Bs during the last few months of his life. But I didn't drop out, and I certainly didn't fail classes.

And then this girl wanted to go into child psychology (despite dismal psych grades) with 60k in debt after 2 years...again, a terrible decision. She should have been looking into nursing, accounting, engineering...something with good employment prospects.

I made it through college more or less alone, from the day I moved in to graduation. As a white male, I didn't get the help of any of these minority/female programs either. But I was able to do well and get a desirable job. And my life is much better now.

At some level, personal responsibility kicks in. Emory really went above and beyond to help that girl. She didn't live up to her end of the bargain.

If you come from a poor family, your college experience will be less pleasant. You will have no family connections. You will have to hustle from day 1 to get work experience. But it can be done.

I personally hated college. I have no desire to repeat the experience. But I am grateful for the help my college gave me, and hope I can give back in the future.


I have a number of thoughts on this article. However, let me preface them by saying that I am quite empathetic to the challenges faced by people (like the women in this article) who are trying to move upward.

That said, I was born to immigrant parents. They had no idea how to navigate the American educational system, and more often than not, I had to find the answers myself. I managed to get myself into a great school essentially on my own, while working throughout high school. In college, I couldn't rely on them for financial support. Through loans and work, I managed to fund college myself (while double majoring in two difficult subjects, joining a fraternity, leading a rich social life, working out, etc.). I was never jealous of those whose parents were bank-rolling college. To me, it simply meant that I had to work harder. When it came time to hunt for jobs, I similarly had no parental input. To mom and dad, working in 'Finance' meant that I was going to be an accountant or something 'numbers-y'. We had nothing in the way of connections, so all of the offers I obtained were through good ol'-fashioned grit. I taught myself what I needed to know, networked, and generally kept knocking on doors until a few opened.

I am now working in a job I love, and if all goes as planned, I will probably be able to completely take care of my parents one day. If that isn't the American dream, then I don't know what is.

Of course, I am a sample size of one, so I know not to apply my life experience to the experiences of others. For one, my family situation was sound. I don't know what it would've been like to come from the homes these girls did; however, I do know what it's like to be poor (though my parents, to their credit, tried to hide that fact from me).

So, having expressed all that, is the education system in this country perfect? No, I would argue that it's highly imperfect. For one, the discussion in too many circles is, 'Getting into college will get you a good job and a stable life.' That simply isn't true, at least not any more. The discussion -- at least for the vast majority of people who aren't going to continue on to graduate school -- should be phrased as, *'How can I utilize* the freedom and the flexibility of college to ensure that I get a good job and a stable life?' (Assuming that's why most people attend college). I know this goes against the 'purity' of education for education's sake, but college should be viewed as a means. Way too often, even (especially?) in rich circles, it is viewed as an end. Unfortunately, the world doesn't pay you for being a wonderful person who became well-rounded by attending college. The world pays you -- and does so begrudgingly -- for the value you're able to provide. Learning that lesson is the most valuable thing I took away from my childhood, so when I got to college, I approached it from that perspective. It really made all the difference.

(In addition, coming from an atypical background (i.e., a non-WSO demographic) can be challenging from a social perspective. I was smart enough to figure out the miserable system the well-to-do have developed for social organization, but if I hadn't, I could easily see how that could lead to a terrible experience).

I suppose my post is a bit ambivalent, but that's sort of the point. On the one hand, we could -- and should -- have a better system. I truly and passionately believe that, and I hope that new forms of education drive that point home in the not-so-distant future. If these girls could've learned college-level coursework in a framework other than the traditional college system, then perhaps they're stories may have ended up quite differently. On the other hand, I think that if you're determined enough, America is still a place where you're free to be as big a man (or woman) as you're capable of becoming.


To add to my above post:

One unfortunate trend I noticed was that many students in my situation did not seem to realize that they should have different career paths than their more affluent friends.

Majoring in art history and interning for habitat for humanity is one thing if your father is MD at a BB. But it is another if you come from a internships.

Universities do not want to have frank discussions about salaries and career tracks with students. They will push and promote "save the planet" jobs because it looks good. If you looked at the spotlighted alumni on my college website, you would think my college never sent a single person into finance.

But honestly students born without money should look at jobs that will earn a decent amount of money. I am not saying Wall Street is the only option. But it would be wise to pick a career path that will generate income in excess of living expenses. You are not under an obligation to "give back" from day one.

I am in my early 20s. Although I could afford to, I am not sending my college money every month or donating to charity. Why? Because I need to get myself squared away first. Buy a house, make sure I have adequate savings, etc.


West Coast rainmaker:
Universities do not want to have frank discussions about salaries and career tracks with students. They will push and promote "save the planet" jobs because it looks good. If you looked at the spotlighted alumni on my college website, you would think my college never sent a single person into finance.

Agreed, if on day 1 they sat down the students and said "Look, if you don't pick a serious major and study your butt off (rather than piss four yrs away partying and on facebook while working towards a sociology BA), then you are gonna be in debt living in your parent's basement for the rest of your twenties" then kids would be much better off.


Newsflash, being poor isn't as easy as being rich. News at 11.

No shit, what a dumb article. Every rich person was a poor person at some point in their families life. Someone needs to make the first step. With the advent of the internet getting informed is easier than ever.

Life sucks and isn't fair. Sooner people realize this the better.

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Coming from a low income family myself I feel like not knowing something when all the needed information is available is a good excuse. Going to college and being serious about college and your future career are very different. Knowing that my parents would not be able to help me financially through school made me that much more attentive to things like deadlines and paper work. Not having a rich family just makes the climb a bit harder but it is not impossible and it shouldn't be viewed as such.

"When you expect things to happen - strangely enough - they do happen."
- JP Morgan


as yet another broke college student who is able to attend a top school due to financial aid/is working my ass of to break into into finance, I have nothing but disdain for kids who blame their disadvantages for their failures.


I hear you guys. With the internet, you can basically figure out everything you need to -- I mean, we're on WSO for a reason, after all.

But imagine the situation that the girl at Emory faced when her adjusted income for financial aid purposes was unilaterally pushed above the $50K "loan-free" threshold. Who is she -- a poor girl from Nowheresville, TX -- to question the financial aid process of an elite institution with a $6BN endowment? I'm not condoning her actions, but I can understand that she was embarrassed, confused, and felt a great deal of shame about potentially going to the financial aid office and pleading her case. That's not a comfortable position to be in when you're in an environment full of upper-middle-class WASPs from the Northeast.

She is already well aware of the fact that she's poor. Emory pulled a stunt with the financial aid adjustment. Should we really expect her to march into the financial aid office and say "no, I'm actually even poorer, wtf are you people doing?" Yes, the "bootstraps" argument applies -- and most people on this site, facing a similar situation, would have vehemently argued in front of the financial aid people. There's a reason this is a finance forum: not everyone on earth is like everyone on this site, something posters often seem to forget.

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Those girls are idiots.

"Slow to consider Emory, she got a late start on the complex process and was delayed by questions about her father, whom she did not even know how to reach. Though Emory sent weekly e-mails -- 17 of them, along with an invitation to a program for minority students -- they went to a school account she had not learned to check. From the start, the wires were crossed."


Misery deserved.


I dont agree that personal drive can get you anywhere. Loads of people (think: IB) like people like them e.g. people who drink expensive wine, ski, travelled the world - all of this costs money. If you did not have a lot of money to do these things in the first place, they may be great people but wont 'click' with the people who have had a chance to do the above as much. Of course there are exceptions to this rule but generally the richer people have better (read: interesting) CV's because they can afford to do more.


Middle class male. State school. Graduated debt free. Financed good chunk of my education by working while all the kids I saw were living it up. Granted college was not 'fun' per say. But, I am employed post graduation. And have a killer resume. At 22, the world is mine. I suffered and did not have a gf in college. You think its easy monkeys? No. But you know what, I have a perspective.

My circle of friends were adults in their 30s and 40s. If you are poor and reading this, know that the middle class suffers as well. But it gets better, the rich suffer as well. I would say if you are from a disadvantaged background then don't date, drop your friends and find better ones.

Independence and success comes from a killer instinct to better yourself. I'm not here to entertain you, neither should you entertain anyone.


I browse these boards occasionally, but finally decided to make an account to share a POV that I feel is missing from this thread.

It sounds like a lot of the posters above struggled and persevered through post-secondary education using the resources available to them, which is awesome. But I feel that some are missing a crucial, environmental perspective.

Where I am from, NO ONE went to college. It just wasn't something that happened. Where I am from, we are meat packers, forklift drivers, and substance abusers. We don't use google to learn about the application process or financial aid, because as far as we are concerned, education beyond high school doesn't exist. The public school system is used to keep kids off the street during the day, rather than prepare them for the future.

Thankfully, as my user name suggests, I "made it" through sheer dumb luck. I was identified as a high-acheiver by an transplant (think TFA) english teacher who wouldn't let me leave school one afternoon before I filled out an online application to our state's university. I didn't know what I was doing, and checked the "business" box on the application because it was close to the top of the drop down list. I had no idea what a "business school" was.

Long story short, I made it through business school by literally following my classmates into info sessions and career fairs. I didn't wear a suit until the second semester of my senior year and somehow landed a consulting gig.

My point is this, there are significant environmental effects on low-income students perception of higher education. These problems go beyond "google", and require (and deserve) more thoughtful responses than "They are idiots and should know better". We are products of our environment, and we can't be expected to pursue opportunities that, as far as we are concerned, don't exist for us.

TLDR; Awareness and exposure to post-secondary education is more important than a simple lack of resources


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