I met with a group of 15 undergraduates today at one of New York’s fine community colleges. The students ranged in age from about 18 to 40, were from all over the world, a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, diverse race/ethnic groups, and ran the gamut from new students to those finishing out their programs. Our conversation focused on the challenges that confront students as they seek to complete their college degrees. Their comments and ideas were fresh yet resonated with things I’ve heard all over the country, and they asked questions that they definitely deserve answers to. Here are some examples:
If a student is receiving food stamps, why can’t those be used to purchase food in college cafeterias?
Why are students who receive transportation assistance (e.g. free Metrocards) while in high school cut off from that assistance when they begin attending college?
Why aren’t students on the Pell Grant given academic advising specifically geared toward ensuring that they make satisfactory academic progress (SAP) so they can keep their financial aid, especially during the first year of college?
How can campus book rental programs charge as much as $150 for a single book and get away with it?
As the students told me, they are not looking for handouts– they are seeking help. They recognize a responsibility to finish what they start, and feel that as they work to fulfill that obligation, their school — and society– have a mutual obligation to support them. As Maslow demonstrated, without basic needs met, it’s nearly impossible for people to succeed in life, let alone learn college material. These students are raising solid, important questions that we need to answer. It’s the least that we can do.