Blog Post

Why Graduate Training Must Change If We Want To Reverse Income Inequality #FuturesEd

Yesterday, in "Mapping the Futures of Higher Education," a student-led graduate course for Graduate Center students currently teaching in the CUNY system, we had a unit on "Life Circumstances and Pedagogical Ethics."  As soon as the notes from the session are posted, we'll tweet them out with the #FuturesEd hashtag.


Until then, here's a punchline:  Less than 23% of CUNY undergraduates come from families with a per capita income of more than $17.5K. 


Think about that.  Take it in.  


Here's another one: 37% of CUNY undergradutes do not have broadband access at home. 


MOOCs? Clickers? Laptops in the classroom--or not?  Think about all the ways these "controversies" of our day are missing the realities of so many of our students' actual, lived lives?  


What we mostly hear about is the "high drop out rate" at our public universities and community colleges.  Well, really.  Shouldn't we talk about the astonishing obstacles overcome by these heroic students?  One of my graduate students told us, yesterday, about her student who writes her papers on her cell phone because she has no broadband at home and the computer lab is not open when she finishes her full-time job as an ambulance EMT.  In fact, given the pressures of her busy life, she often writes her papers on her cell phone in the ambulance!  That she is an above average student under such conditions is amazing.  Hire her, please!  She is unstoppable.


Training graduate students to train for true American diversity—linguistic, racial, gender, economic--requires a complete rethinking of graduate training and undergraduate education.  Most of the norms and forms of higher education today dictated by the top 10 elite private universities.   They are the gold standard in rankings that dictate, almost by default, everything else.  


Yet these top elite research institutions serve only .3% of the college population.

Our top 10 universities serve the .3% of the college age population---and the majority of professors hired to full time jobs at our universities come from that very selective body of schools.  Almost nothing in the training of graduate students at the most elite universities is geared to students who come from families that earn less than $17.5 per capita.

Add to that the correlation between high academic secondary school achievement and family income and you have an educational system that does not serve the vast majority of students.  Indeed, universities today exacerbate rather than ameliorate income inequality. 


How can we change that?  We need a new kind of education for everyone else, and one that judges quality by successful completion not selective admissions.





Also 78% of CUNY students who work are working to cover living expenses.  What is the percentage of students who work to cover living expenses and what work are they doing?  Reseach jobs that add to their academic skills or  back breaking labor at the Hunts Point Fruit and Vegtable market.  I have 27 students in Child studies who spend an entire day giving care to special needs kids and then sit for three hours a night, four nights a week to earn their BA's.  If that doesn't define grit, I don't know what does.