Thursday, November 29, 2012

Chris Gehrz on Social Class and Christian Colleges

Chris Gerhz of Bethel University is at it again with his excellent analysis of Christian College life.  (Someone needs to hire this guy as an administrator! Check out his series on "Ranking Christian Colleges").

This time Chris is examining the topic of social class and Christian colleges.  As the child of working class parents and a first-generation college student, his series of posts caught my eye.

He begins with a Chronicle of Higher Education story by historian Richard Greenwald that offers some startling statistics about first-generation college students in general across the U.S.  More than 25% of them fail to make it into their second year of college and 90% fail to graduate within six years.  Many of them have a difficult time adjusting to a liberal arts education.  They feel "vulnerable" and "rootless" and do not know how to process criticism of their work.  I used to raise this issue a lot at the college where I teach, but it always fells on deaf ears.

Moreover, Chris wonders how working class students deal with college expenses that go beyond tuition.  Study abroad trips and other travel opportunities can be costly.  We tell our students to take advantage of extra-curricular opportunities to learn and grow their vitas, but often times only the wealthier students can take advantage of them. Like Bethel University, we push internships here in the Messiah College History Department.  How do you tell a student to do an unpaid summer internship when they need to get a job so that that they can afford tuition for the following academic year?

I don't have the time or space here to unpack or interpret all of Gerhz's research on this topic, but his series of posts is very revealing and definitely worth a look.  Check it out here:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three



2 comments:

Adina J said...

This really resonates with me. As an undergraduate I worked 30 hours a week off-campus in order to pay for my expenses. I was not able to study abroad, and I couldn't take a summer internship for financial reasons. I was already incurring debt by attending a private school, I couldn't fathom more. Although I am now a graduate student and thankful for the time I spent in the "real world," my lack of work experience that directly related to my degree really hurt me on the job market. As a history major, I have no vocational experience to show for it except for one semester as a TA and 6 years of experience working at a restaurant.
I don't feel sorry for myself, but I do wonder what would have happened if I had been able to take advantage of some of the opportunities my friends had. I don't think they are necessary for a great college education, but they can really help once you graduate. Just my thoughts...feel free to follow up.

John Fea said...

Very true, Adina. Thanks for sharing this. As I said in this post, I wonder if the full benefit of college is only available to a certain kind of financially secure student. Moreover, I do not think that colleges, especially Christian college where justice issues are important, are addressing this effectively. As a working-class kid I could not do anything in college beyond my traditional coursework. Yet we continue to push internships, study-abroad, etc... without thinking deeply about the economic ramifications.