Diversity, Education, Privilege, Top Stories

For Students Who Grew Up Poor, An Elite Campus Can Seem Like a Sea of Wealth and Snobbery

“Where are the other poor black kids?” This is the first question I remember asking myself, a chubby freshman with my hair in cornrows, while walking across the Amherst College campus. I was in the center of the main quad, standing outside Johnson Chapel. The lawn was freshly mowed. It looked pristine, a shimmering deep green. The Massachusetts evening, slightly chilly for a Miami transplant such as myself, was filled with excitement as the incoming freshmen meandered around, nervously greeting one another. Conversations bubbled all around me. Wasting little time, my new peers enlisted me in a rite of passage that, fifteen years later, I now call “convocation conversations”—those quick, casual introductory chats that happen en route to meals and classes, where students conveniently work in verbal versions of their resumes and narrate their summer itineraries for any and all to hear.

These strangers—my new classmates—swapped stories of summer fun. Multiweek trips abroad. Fancy parties at summer homes. Courtside seats at professional basketball games. Invitations to private premieres of movies that, as far as I knew, had not yet hit theaters. Many of these kids were white, but the black students were chiming in too, going tit-­for-­tat recounting the elaborate stories behind their passport stamps. One black classmate casually mentioned that she had flown on a private jet. I thought back to my first time on a plane, which had been just a few months ago: me struggling to chew five pieces of Wrigley’s Doublemint gum, because everyone had made me afraid that my ears would pop, as I boarded a Delta Airlines flight from Fort Lauderdale to Hartford, Connecticut, for my Amherst football recruiting trip. I tried to think of a story that I could add. The only family vacations I had known were drives up I­95 from Miami to a cousin’s house in Georgia. These rich kids had their own version of summer. In my family, summer was just a season, a hundred days of heat, humidity and hurricanes. And mosquitoes.

I was surrounded by affluence; some of my Amherst classmates were flat­-out rich. The Amherst brochure boasted that roughly 40 percent of students received financial aid, but I knew what that really meant: More than half of my classmates came from families that made too much money to qualify for any financial aid. I was not surprised by the wealth. After all, I already knew what it meant to go to school with rich people. I had just finished my senior year at Gulliver Preparatory, a wealthy private high school in Miami. Although I was only there for a year, it gave me a taste of what was to come, both socially and academically. My best friend at Gulliver, whose father convinced me to start eating burgers medium instead of well done, which was the rule in my house, received a car his senior year, and an all­-expenses-­paid backpacking trip through Europe as a graduation gift. The first time I heard the word “hostel” was while sitting in the larger of the two family rooms in their sprawling, Spanish­-style home.

But there was a difference between what I had experienced at Gulliver and what I found at Amherst. While I was not shocked by the wealth, I was surprised by its color. The rich kids at Gulliver, those who drove Range Rovers and boasted of extravagant vacations, were not black. But at Amherst, many of my new wealthy classmates were.

What I discovered that afternoon was the same thing I would read about years later, as a sociology graduate student, in William Bowen and Derek Bok’s groundbreaking study of American higher education, The Shape of the River. Bowen and Bok found that the majority of black students at the twenty­-eight elite colleges and universities they studied (from Ivy League institutions, like Columbia University, to flagship public universities, like the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor) came from upper-­income families. My Amherst classmates were no exception. Some were the sons of Bain Capital and McKinsey & Company. Others were the daughters of the Mayo Clinic and Massachusetts General Hospital. I was not. I was a Head Start kid from Coconut Grove, a distressed community that, in 2013, the Miami Herald called a “neighborhood that time forgot.” My mother patrolled the hallways of Ponce de Leon Middle School for over thirty years, wearing a green polo shirt with Security in white block letters emblazoned across its back. By day, my older brother, his pale blue uniform peppered with bleach spots, cleaned the classrooms of my old elementary school; by night, he cleaned the emergency rooms at South Miami Hospital.

Before I transferred to Gulliver, the closest I got to rich was through the stories my grandmother told me. For her entire adult life, she cleaned the homes of wealthy white families, mainly doctors and lawyers. When my cousin was arrested for possession of a controlled substance, one of my grandmother’s employers, a lawyer, represented him as a favor for her twenty­-plus years of service. She did not gossip about what went on inside her employers’ homes. Now and then, however, she would let slip a detail about an expensive purchase or a lavish family trip. The father of one of the families, a commercial pilot, invited my grandmother to travel on one of his flights so that she could hear his voice come across the intercom greeting passengers as they took their seats. (She never did go.) But second­hand accounts and unanswered invitations were the extent of my exposure—wealth was always just a story to me. Hearing my classmates at Amherst recount their adventures, just as distant as those my grandmother shared when we sat at her knee, I resigned myself to be, yet again, one of the few poor black people in a rich (mostly) white place, just as I had been at Gulliver.

My hasty conclusion that afternoon was reasonable. Higher education in America is highly unequal and disturbingly stratified. Youth from poor families of all races, but especially those from black and Latino families, are less likely to go to college than their wealthy peers. When they do go to college, they rarely attend schools like Amherst. Although half of all undergraduates in the United States are the first in their family to go to college—with most of those coming from poor backgrounds—first­-generation college students are disproportionately relegated to community colleges, for-­profit colleges, and less­-selective four-­year colleges. Those institutions share some troubling traits: resources are few, aid for students is scarce, and retention is low.

That same disproportion, of course, works in reverse. The more selective the college, the fewer the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, in terms of both class and race. In their examination of college demographics between 1982 and 2006, Anthony Carnevale and Jeff Strohl of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce clearly documented this phenomenon. At the most competitive tier of colleges—think Columbia, Princeton, Stanford—just 14 percent of undergraduates came from the bottom half of the country’s income distribution. At the second­-most competitive tier—the likes of Dickinson, Furman and Skidmore—just 16 percent did. This paucity of lower-­income students at the most selective colleges and universities, which comprised 193 institutions at the time of their study, stands in stark contrast to the fact that in these same two tiers, 63 and 70 percent of students, respectively, came from the top quartile of the income distribution. Put another way, children from well­-to-­do families, as measured in terms of earnings, took up two ­thirds of the seats at the best schools.

New data provide a more detailed, and even more discouraging, snapshot of where Americans from families of different income levels go to college. In 2017, the economist Raj Chetty and his colleagues found that students from families in the top 1 percent—those with incomes of more than $630,000 a year—are 77 times more likely to attend an Ivy League college than are students from families that make $30,000 or less a year. The study showed that a startling number of elite colleges—38, by their count, including places like Colby College and Bucknell University—have more students from families in the top 1 percent than from families in the bottom 60 percent (the growing group of families that make less than $65,000). At Colorado College, the ratio is greater than 2 to 1. At Washington University in St. Louis, it is just over 3.5 to 1. Another comparison, this time looking at the college destinations of the super­rich, puts this inequality into even sharper perspective. Chetty’s report showed that the percentage of students from families in the top 0.1 percent who attended elite universities (40 percent) was the same as the percentage of students from poor families who attended any college at all, either two-­year or four­-year.

We might have better data now, but the situation itself is not new. Indeed, for more than two decades, colleges have faced significant pressure to do more to combat inequality, and in particular, to use their considerable wealth to address the affordability problem of higher education. In 2008, just before the financial crisis, the Senate Finance Committee admonished colleges for not spending more of their growing endowments on financial aid and access. The public has chimed in as well, lamenting the rising tuition costs that have priced out a growing segment of the American population. Colleges were (and still are) missing out on students from humble means who have a powerful drive to succeed. To address this inequality in access, which was keeping poor youth from reaping the benefits of an elite education—as well as to respond to public outcries against skyrocketing costs—a few colleges introduced no-­loan financial aid policies in the late 1990s. Rather than the usual combination of scholarships and loans, which was still prohibitively expensive for many poor families, schools began to create financial aid packages that replaced loans with grants and other forms of aid intended to help recruit and then support academically gifted applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Princeton University began this movement in 1998. Then-president Harold T. Shapiro noted of the policy, “Our aim is to do as much as we can to be sure that no student decides not to apply to Princeton solely for financial reasons.” A number of colleges followed Princeton’s lead. Amherst did so in 1999, which helped pave the way for my admission a few years later. By 2008, all the Ivies were on board. Stanford University, MIT and Duke University adopted similar policies. Although enacted mostly by private colleges, no-­loan financial aid was taken up by some flagship public universities as well. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was the first public university to do so, in 2003. The University of Virginia and the University of Michigan followed suit soon thereafter. Donald Saleh, former dean of admissions and financial aid at Cornell University, expressed the general sentiment about this new approach to aid: “There’s an importance in having socio­economic diversity, so that campuses reflect the country in general rather than a campus that is upper income.”

These revolutionary policies increased access to many universities, especially elite ones. The effects were felt right away: Student bodies began to look different. Vassar College, which in 2015 won the inaugural Cooke Prize for Equity in Educational Excellence, nearly doubled the percentage of Pell Grant–eligible students—students from families in the bottom quarter of the income distribution—from 12 percent in 2008 to 23 percent in 2015. The University of North Carolina and Amherst reported that at least 20 percent of the students who enrolled between 2012 and 2014 were from lower-­income families.

Elite colleges may be few in number, but their influence—on the lives of individual students and on American society as a whole—is outsized. For students from disadvantaged backgrounds, attending an elite college or university serves as a mobility springboard. Graduating from any college provides benefits, especially to students belonging to groups that are the recipients of policy initiatives aimed to diversify universities along class and racial lines. But this difference is even more pronounced for elite colleges, where graduation rates are higher. The nation’s most selective colleges boast graduation rates of 90 percent or more, while the average for community colleges is 57 percent. While some of this gap is due to differences in the preparation of the students who attend each type of institution, there is no doubt that more resources and support are available at elite colleges and universities. The economic payoff of attendance is also larger. A 1999 study found that graduates of elite private schools had incomes 39 percent higher than those of their peers who attended low­-ranked public universities. Whether looking at Supreme Court justices or leaders of different industries, alumni from elite colleges and universities are the norm rather than the exception. The sociologist Lauren Rivera has shown that students from elite institutions have an advantage when trying to enter lucrative fields like management consulting, law and investment banking; as a result, alumni of elite colleges dominate the ranks in those companies.

The shift in the makeup of the undergraduate population at elite schools is remarkable. More and more colleges are enacting policies to promote the social mobility of those from humble means. They are being celebrated and rewarded for their efforts to diversify their campuses, and by extension, to expand the ranks of the future leaders of America. The doors to elite colleges are increasingly open to lower-­income students. But just how wide open are they? Let us not forget that Princeton, despite introducing this change in financial aid policy, remains one of the thirty­eight universities that have more students from the top 1 percent than the bottom 60 percent. Lower-­income students may be entering elite colleges in greater numbers now than they were fifty years ago, but these campuses are still bastions of wealth, built on the customs, traditions, and policies that reflect the tastes and habits of the rich.

I believe we should congratulate these colleges and universities on their willingness to innovate. Yet we cannot stop there. We must inquire further. Who are the students admitted to college under these new financial aid regimes? And what happens to them when they arrive on campus? Now that they have gained access to an elite institution, how do they make a home in its hallowed halls?

* * *

That afternoon on the Amherst quad, after milling around and making small talk, I marched along with my classmates into Valentine dining hall. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the young black woman sitting next to me, who had just graduated from a snooty day school and had studied abroad in Spain the previous year, also came from a single­-parent home and was the first in her family to attend college. After discovering our common past, we felt the flush of comfort that comes with shared impoverishment but also shared freedoms. We immediately started telling stories of life before Amherst. We both grew up in segregated neighborhoods where just about everybody was black. The white people we did see fell into three easily identifiable categories: police officers, crackheads and people who had lost their way. Her family, too, struggled to make ends meet from time to time. Both of us had done homework by candlelight, not for atmosphere, but because the power was out.

She and I laughed and commiserated over that desperate search for end­-of­-the­-month money. Soon, a few other students at our table joined in. We were not the only ones, it turned out, who had experienced poverty in our youth but had been exposed to a different world when we went to a prep school. The vacation homes I heard about from some of my new friends during those convocation conversations, I discovered, were not always their own. They often belonged to the families of their wealthy high-school classmates, the ones that we all made nice with for a few glimpses at the good life. I was not alone. I was not the only poor black kid on campus. And I was not the only one who had already been granted access to experiences and places beyond what my family could afford or even knew about. My classmate and I were not as different as I had thought. We were both poor. And privileged.



Excerpted from The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students, by Anthony Abraham Jack, published by Harvard University Press. Copyright © 2019 by Anthony Abraham Jack. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Featured Image: Unidentified man photographed in Boston, 2016.


  1. Great article. Very human and I especially like the reference to Dr Raj Chetty- his work on social mobility is visionary, especially in suggesting potential policies. In the UK, we seem to be experiencing a small, but remarkable renaissance in secondary and sixth form education with schools like the Michaela Community School and Brampton Manor Academy achieving results that are exceptional. This to me, seems like a re-envisioning and resurrection of the old grammar school system, providing highly structured, knowledge-intensive learning with strict enforcement of low-level discipline (such as detentions). One hopes that the Left will abandon it’s traditional opposition to these traditional methodologies, given that these schools serve the very marginalised communities they purport to champion. Because such intensive knowledge-based learning is surely the only reliable leveller to a stable, affluent family with a home full of books.

  2. Your first question was “where are the other poor black kids at?” So much for valuing diversity.

    How come your first question wasn’t “What knowledge will be imparted on me in this great institution?”

    How represented are Asian youth in elite colleges? And Jewish youth for that matter?

    According to your interpretation of Raj Chetty’s data just send poor people to elite colleges! Brilliant, then their incomes will be 39% higher, problem solved.

  3. A well written article with some interesting data points. But for crying out loud:

    1. You got into an elite university! Good on you! You can chose to perceive the experience as a “sea of wealth and snobbery” or a sea of opportunity which will enable you to bestow accrued lifetime earnings upon your children, parents, and/or grandchildren. You may be the first in your family line to pass on a significant, financial inheritance to your children and close the black/white wealth gap in your family. And…
    2. I fail to comprehend this infatuation with “elite” universities. Higher education is probably the most egalitarian institution in our society. Quite literally anyone can get a decent university education and land squarely in the middle class in America. However, you have to be willing to concede that you cannot be anything you want and you might need to start in community college while holding a part-time job and saving a bit.

    Kinda like, I knew there was no way I was gonna be a rich rock star, so I chose engineering instead. That didn’t entirely work out so I became a computer programmer on my own time. Boom - middle class all the way, no student loan debt, decent level of savings and a healthy (for now) 401k. And a great work-life balance to boot.

    I guess I don’t understand the goal here. Is it to get more poor black kids into elite universities? If so, why? The idea that an individual must attend the ivy league in order to fully actualize their talent and passion is a lie and we all know it. Or, is the goal instead to just perseverate on “inequality”? I think I already know the answer.

  4. MorganFoster
    “You think bright, energetic and poor black kids should stay out of our best universities, but to do what with their lives instead?”

    For what it’s worth, I’ve been fortunate in my life to have had a wide range of exeriences in a wide range of locals and countries– I even worked at Amherst College for a painting contractor. These experiences have led me to make two generalizations: 1.Higher Education as commonly practiced today has little or nothing to do with thinking. 2. Many, if not most, of the most intelligent people I’ve met over the years had little or no higher education (by most intelligent, I mean manifesting an understanding of the relationship between thinking and doing, as opposed to a facility with abstract concepts).

    If any bright and energetic kid from any kind of background is essentially concerned with worldly success and social approval by all means get yourself into an elite college. That’s your ticket into the elite world. If on the other hand, you suspect there may be more to life, you at least might want to be a little circumspect.

    So to answer your question more specifically regarding doing what with their lives: How about strengthening their character and strengthening the self reliance of their communities?

  5. I missed the examples of snobbery by other students. It sounds more like the author simply did not like that it was largely students from wealthy families that could afford Amherst ( Cost of attendance: $78,872–81,322 per year) If he was looking to share an education experience with those of lower income, why not forgo the expensive “elite” schools and go to a state institution?

    Too bad heterodoxacademy no longer publishes their ideological diversity ranking but my recollection was the ivy league colleges were the worst offenders. Why the worry about wealth and background of other students when he might have a better chance for an education at a state college and for a whole lot less money than the indoctrination at an expensive ivy league school. If anything I detect an inverted snobbery in this article.

  6. Here’s one perspective based on my own experience that may apply to kids with academic aptitude but not much available funding. If possible, it was for me, go to an affordable local junior college and if possible continue to live at home. Then take courses that count towards a university degree. Work hard and diligently at them. Let your academic talent shine in your work as reflected in the marks and comments you get. Then with that built up record apply for admission to university, be it a high falutin one or a local public college and look for all the scholarship and like grant money you can find. Btw, work at the highest paying jobs you can find in the summer. Then, admitted, follow the same path: work as hard and diligently as you can and let your academic aptitude shine in your work as you advance to an undergraduate degree, preferably in an honours program, since you do have academic aptitude. Then with your degree and very good academic record follow further whatever path you wish and is available to you, be it work, graduate school or professional school. This with some modifications was my path. I started after an academically lousy high school experience in a no tuition junior college credentially equal to a first university year, finally worked hard, got very good marks, then went to a good university, found I had a pronounced aptitude for English literature, majored in it, got into graduate school, got an MA, with my marks improving year in year out, then changed paths and went to law school and followed that route to becoming and working as a lawyer. There was no disadvantage to me whatsoever, just the opposite, socially or academically in taking my first year at a junior college. And I would have done two years there if it that were then available. It wasn’t. I’ve been in small towns all across the US and see the proliferation of junior colleges everywhere. For the academically gifted and hard working but underfunded, they provide, at a minimum, an adequate place to start to get an academic foothold.

  7. MorganFoster
    Thanks for response. What goes on in so-called higher education is, in my opinion, symptomatic of certain values of our society as a whole. For better or worse.

    Higher education is clearly beneficial for all kinds of people and certainly training in specific fields can be of value (my wife has two advanced degrees from an Ivy League University). So it could reasonably said, very broadly, that college education (from Jr. colleges to elite universities) in general is producing many well trained individuals who find meaningful work (though how efficiently this is being done is highly debatable).

    On the other hand, I agree with philosopher Alan Bloom (drawing on Alexis de Tocqueville) that the prime function of higher education in a democracy is to keep certain elemental philosophical questions alive. Democracy, as the great Ortega y Gasset said, is “a high wire act”, which means it requires perpetual renewal and debate to avoid stagnation and devolution to paternalist authoritarian rule (also see Tocqueville on this specific point). And it is especially vital that this debate be perpetuated at the “elite” schools.

    As near as I can tell higher education has abandoned this prime function - especially at elite schools. This is what Bloom meant by “the closing of the American mind”. Whatever discussion of more elemental questions which does exist seems to be outside of Academia – this seems this accounts for the emergence of Quillete and the whole Intellectual Dark Web. And, in a miniscule way, our own conversation.

  8. I agree. I should point out that when I went to college it wasn’t this way.
    Here is a story of college as it used to be, in the late '90’s.
    I was at Princeton, and this would have been my sophomore or Junior year I think. Princeton hired a fellow named Peter Singer, who was an ethicist with some fairly extreme ideas on quality of life. One of the things he tried to explore was whether or not it was a good idea to bring someone into the world with severe handicaps, from a quality-of-life issue. This, of course, caused people with handicaps of various types to have the Screaming meemies!
    On the day that he was supposed to arrive and start teaching we had a massive mob screaming and chanting outside Nassau Hall. This was a bit of a problem for anyone who needed to go to the bank, or Burger King, or whatever else you needed to do down the street oh, and if you tried to pass through or around the mob you got relentlessly pamphleted. People kept trying to tell us that he was a monster, that his ideas were vile, and that we shouldn’t have a creature like that teaching us. It sounds remarkably familiar, almost as if Princeton had hired Jordan Peterson. The general response that was noted by students and faculty, and which was mentioned quite admiringly on campus, was along the lines of ‘thank you for telling me, I may take a class and see what he’s all about. Then I’ll make up my own mind’.
    It really frustrated the protesters, but we generally stood firm against the mob, and he still teaches at Princeton as far as I know.

    That is something that should be taught to every student, Elite or not. Ignore the outrage, ignore the people who try to intimidate you with their rage and bad intentions. Do not apologize. Do your own research, be thorough, and make up your own mind. That is how you get through an elite Institution, but it should be something taught at all institutions.

  9. I sympathize with the author’s resentment. I did my undergrad at Canada’s equivalent of Ivy League, and it was hard not to be aware of how poor I was compared to my peers, some of whom had come from as far as Dubai and Singapore for an education. My family was poor to begin with, but a family argument also left me homeless and required I sustain myself without parental help while doing a full course load for most of my undergrad. After working through the Easter long weekend, I listened to classmates complain about having very little money with one breath and their Easter ski trip in the Alps with the next. As I accrued student loan debt and worked minimum wage, missing out on precious time for labs and assignments, I resented the “rich kids” whose mere existence seemed snobby.

    However, I urge the author and others in this situation to resist that urge. Resenting people over something they had no control over is an ugly thing. Using statistics on inequity to justify that resentment doesn’t make it less ugly. Particularly since the statistics suggest that parental income is correlated with offspring attainment, but is not causative: the correlation is due to IQ controlling both. Children of the wealthy are overrepresented in higher education because they inherited higher IQs from their parents, who themselves used their high IQs to succeed and earn high wages.

    I think it does a disservice to people from disadvantaged backgrounds to suggest you should be able to join the elites in one generation. This is something built through sacrifice and dedication to your children’s future. It’s sacrificing the expediency of McDonald’s for (equally affordable) fresh meat and vegetables. It’s investing in books instead of TVs, consoles, and video games. It’s going to a less expensive college you can succeed in so you can get a good enough job to send your kids to a better one. Success comes from values that need to be built, and no amount of affirmative action can replace that in the long run.

    Contrary to the author’s claim, student loans are not prohibitively unaffordable to the poor: they may simply represent an investment they find intimidating. If you don’t think the education you’re buying is worth the investment, if you’re not confident you’ll be able to repay the loan comfortably with future earnings, going to that school is not a good choice. Offering freebies isn’t going to make that education any more worthwhile for you. What you major in and how you do compared to your cohort is more important than where you study.

  10. Sounds like you’re getting some fantastic work done there Geary. Kudos. Is there any work that could possibly be more important than salvaging the next generation?


    The boss often posts info about the state of American schools and sometimes the data are just unbelievably bad.

    “the only reliable leveller to a stable, affluent family with a home full of books”

    Not to mention superior parents both genetically and in practice. Hard to make those advantages go away. Is it even a good idea to want to make them go away? Leveling down is so much easier that leveling up, and leveling up might simply be impossible. Tho one does what can be done.

  11. Now there’s some constructive thinking.

    “That’s bullshit”

    Yes, and I say that as a math tutor. Trying to force anything beyond basic practical math down the throat of a chef is just trial by ordeal. Really, why? And yes, trades. Some say the success of the Germans is because they value the trades and send kids to the schooling that’s appropriate for them. Ivy league schooling should be for the very small number of folks who merit it. It should not be a sort of class welfare program, that really is so stupid.

  12. Poverty breeds resentment and I personally relate to those feelings, especially at that particular age. Having changed those feelings over time and with experience, I also see them for what they are…immaturity.

    I also grew up poor. On welfare, in a large family, with physically abusive parents who turned me over as a ward of the state at age 14. I was moderately intelligent, combative, angry, obstinate, and extremely contrarian. When I was finally released from the state reform school I gravitated towards friends that were similar to myself. Cynical, world weary, street smart teenagers with most of the same poor coping skills that I had ie. drugs, alcohol, and crime. People from money were a different species. They “didn’t get it”, they never would. I always felt like a wolf among sheep around other “normal” kids my age.

    I never went to university, instead I went to prison…for most of my 20’s. Somewhere in there and afterwards as well my attitude shifted. I began to look at the wealthy as 1. Still human and prone to all the problems and issues that humans face. 2. Doing something for their children I wish had been done for me.

    Now, as a father, and for every other parent and child I look at it this way…I work hard, run my own small, successful business, and while I don’t spoil my children, they are well loved and want for nothing. They will most definitely be given any leg up I can manage in relation to their education. Anyone who would resent them for this is either immature, or an envious, resentful piece of shit.

    To the author, try to imagine your own, future children, and how you would feel if someone were to dismiss their value based on the love, effort, and advantage that you worked so hard to give to them.

  13. Geary
    Here in Oz, commencing in the 90s, higher education was reformed so that what used to be colleges of advanced education that granted diplomas for vocational course became universities offering degrees. I think the idea was to show that all sorts of work is valuable and that more students should be completing tertiary education.
    But, as Kingsley Amis said about the expansion of University education, more means less. We have seen a massive growth in credentialism, with useless entry requirements as you point out, often getting in the way of practical considerations.
    And of course when only 20% of people went to a university, the government here could afford to provide free education, and even gave less well off students a small stipend whilst they studied. But this couldn’t last once it became government policy to push as many students as possible into unviversity.

  14. I’ve been upset by such things in the past and though they never drove me to vote for trump, I harbored some ill feelings toward the people and ideology that labeled my life privileged when it clearly hadn’t been so.

    But thankfully I just don’t engage with that nonsense much anymore. There’s zero utility and even less logic to intersectionality as is currently and fashionably applied. Life is too full of good things to focus on the silly world view and labels of some over educated and under experienced fools.

  15. After getting my MSc in math - back in '84 - I had a job at a Quebec CEGEP teaching math at various levels. (A Quebec CEGEP basically covered 12th grade and first year university, and they often had a range of courses, from the vocational to very academic).

    One of the courses I taught was remedial math, which covered what’s now called “college algebra” - basic algebra, intro to linear programming, trig, precalc, etc…Most of the students in that course were in vocational programs; the guys were largely reservists from one Canadian regiment and wanted to go into the military full time, the girls were headed into subjects like early childhood education or business.

    The first thing I learned was that these kids were very competent at tacit learning (learning by doing and observing) and not so good at explicit learning (learning through lectures or reading). Kids get to feeling overwhelmed and stupid when they are faced with some ridiculous algebraic expression that they have to simplify; I would just talk to them about how they knew how to tear down their rifles or a car engine (which the guys could all do) or pick apart a dress to make a pattern (which the girls could do); taking apart a math expression or equation is much the same.

    Another point that math books tend to miss - as do people who go straight through school to get their degrees without stopping for awhile in the outside world - is figuring out how to make things relevant. The 12 years I spent doing other stuff between high school and university sort of paid off there. These kids couldn’t have cared less about the beauty of quadratics or exponentials, but point out how they might apply to ballistics or the compound interest on their credit cards certainly kept their attention.

    A big point too about working with tacit learners is that they need to practice, practice, practice. Lots of homework, lots of snap quizzes. and a fair bit of office hours and make up days. Which means a lot more work for the teacher, but that’s what one is paid for…

    Anyway, I quite enjoyed it all, except having to deal with the union. They were a pain, and a major reason for my going into private industry as an applied mathematician. But there’s two fond memories. The reservists offered to provide me a salute at my wedding (I told them that if any of them showed up, they’d fail the course, haha). The other happened just before class one day, when a couple of my students were trying to work out a problem that involved the square roots of negative numbers. One of the academic science stream kids wandered in, and started making fun of the fact that they were trying to take the square root of negative numbers. It did my heart good to see how quickly they took him down and showed him the basics of complex mathematics.

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