A Breathe of Fresh Air
Here is an “elite” helping the working families of our country. Most pander to other countries, other elite groups or themselves. My son finally found his home in a small technical college learning a skill and teamwork. Very affordable and his skill will give him a lifetime of income. I’m all for higher education that enriches our kids to think for themselves, to be grateful and to find good in everything, even our country.
MacKenzie Scott Evan Agostini/Invision, via Associated Press
Alcorn State University, Santa Fe College and West Kentucky Community and Technical College are all working-class colleges. Most of their students are lower-income, and many are trying to become the first member of their family to earn a college degree.
If you spend time on any of these campuses, you are likely to come away feeling inspired. The students have often endured hardship — like a dysfunctional high school, an abusive relationship or wartime military service — and figured out how to keep going.
West Kentucky spends $7,200 annually per student on education — money that needs to cover the salaries of professors and support staff, as well as labs and other educational resources. Alcorn State (in Mississippi) and Santa Fe (in Florida) each spend less than $14,000. So does Borough of Manhattan Community College, in New York.
Want to guess how much money Ivy League colleges spend on education per student each year? About $100,000 on average, according to a report by Third Way. Elite public universities often spend more than $30,000.
These funding gaps exacerbate both economic and racial inequality. “The dollars don’t go to the people who truly need it,” Jeff Strohl, of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, told me. Without enough resources, working-class colleges tend to have low graduation rates. Many of their students struggle to find good-paying jobs and to repay their college loans.
This week, the philanthropist MacKenzie Scott — who helped shape Amazon, during the years she was married to Jeff Bezos — announced that she had given away more than $4 billion, mostly to organizations focused on economic hardship. “This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling,” Scott wrote on Medium.
Scott’s 384 recipients included 36 colleges, all with large numbers of lower-income students. The four colleges I mentioned above are on the list. In some cases, the gifts are the largest that the colleges have received.
“I was stunned,” Ruth Simmons, the president of Prairie View A&M, a historically Black university in Texas, told my colleague Anemona Hartocollis. When Simmons heard in a phone call that the gift would be $50 million, she wasn’t sure she had heard correctly. The caller had to clarify: “five-zero.”
Higher education experts are praising Scott for giving money to the colleges that need it the most, rather than to colleges that already have the most. Strohl called her choice of recipients “brilliant.”