Who Gets to Graduate?

Who Gets to Graduate?

Oh, the college experience: meeting friends that will be with you until your dying days, all-nighters, parties, and The Good Life. But what about doubt, thoughts of dropping out, depression, and even suicide? Unfortunately, those are all very real parts of the college experience too.

This article, which discusses the class-based college graduation rate gap amongst high-achieving high school students, is wonderful. My five year goal is to transition out of the classroom and onto a college campus. Ideally, I would want to work with historically underrepresented groups (people of color and/or first generation students) concerning graduation rates or in international education.

Unlike Vanessa in this article, the odds were not stacked against me when it came to finishing my degree. Yes, I’m a person of color (which is a strike against me according to the record books), but I grew up middle-class with college educated parents.

Not going to college was not an option.


That being said, I was definitely plagued with self-doubt throughout my college experience. If it wasn’t for certain interventions (that I applied to get admitted to) I would’ve transferred. Not dropped out (again, not getting a four-year degree was not an option for me), but transferred.The fact that self-doubt can lead to transferring colleges versus dropping out altogether can have a huge impact on a person’s economic power in the long run.

Thus, programs such as the one UT established to help students who most need a college degree to change their life trajectory should be applauded.

Both college programs I entered targeted first years (one surrounding thematic classes of interest; the other, women). And, thankfully, my happiest college memories are affiliated with the programs.

Despite some of the comments that imply it’s not fair Vanessa is even at UT because “clearly she wasn’t prepared and should’ve transferred” or “it’s because she’s African-American that she even got accepted in the first place with such low test scores,” I’m all for and even inspired by UT’s program. As a teacher who has spent five years teaching in under-served, poverty ridden communities, I can attest to the fact that there are various psychological factors that can influence a student’s path to college graduation.

Wealthier students have plenty of advantage before arriving to college to get them where they need to be (stronger schools, private tutors, access to a larger network, etc…). Why, then, should students who traditionally did not have such resources for the first eighteen years of their life not be given them for the four years that can impact the next fifty plus years of their lives?

And to the low test scores as proof Vanessa never should have been at UT argument? Don’t even get me started.

1.) I went to school in Texas when George W. Bush was governor and then became president (Lord have mercy). My entire school career was high stakes testing (complete with two administrators who got fired from my high school for telling low-performing students to stay home the day of the state tests). Test scores should be part of a larger portfolio displaying a student’s ability. Not the end all and be all. OK, Vanessa didn’t have amazing test score results. The fact that she graduated in the top 7% of her class was amazing though. Portfolio, people.

2.) As a teacher in New York City I went through five years of high stakes testing. It was atrocious, and even a year removed from that environment I cringe when people want to start talking about data (read: test scores). Again, portfolio.

3.) I’m an average test-taker, always have been and probably always will be. I graduated cum laude from an elite university but my ACT and SAT scores were well-below the average student’s at my university. Putting it bluntly, based on test scores alone I was low by university standards. Based on test scores (yet again) I was placed in a beginner Spanish class despite three years of high school Spanish. My Spanish professor bumped me up to the intermediate class a few weeks after the term began because my ability did not match what the test revealed.

I close with this: I was born and raised middle class. I graduated from an elite university and by all official measures I should definitely feel like I “belong” in certain environments. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don’t. What never ceases to amaze me though is the difference amongst certain groups who never DOUBT their rightful place at the table (or college seminar discussion table, if you will). Some say it’s a sense of entitlement; some say it’s just confidence.

I say it’s a mix of both, and let’s give that mix to more under-served but definitely deserving communities.

Best of luck, Vanessa, and best of luck to others in similar situations!


One thought on “Who Gets to Graduate?

  1. Pingback: 2014’s Most Popular Posts | (Im)Migrating with a Purpose

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s