Tuesday, May 17, 2016


I still have a lot of friends who teach in higher ed, so I hear a lot of these stories. Basically some institutions do a pretty good job of providing free or cheap college to some number of poor kids, but then the support structure just isn't there. There are students who just can't always come up with an extra 10 bucks to cover some extra expense. It isn't just wanting to keep up with the rich kids - though that's an issue, too - sometimes it's just having money to buy some extra supplies or feed yourself on those days when the dining halls are closed. The administrations are usually smart enough to understand that not all students are rich, but they fail to get just what being poor means. It means that sometimes an extra $10 is impossible to come by. And even if the resources are available to fill those holes when necessary, it still requires that potentially shy and a bit in over their heads kids go ask for them.

Here at Columbia University, money pressures lead many to cut corners on textbook purchases and skip city excursions routine for affluent classmates. Some borrow thousands of dollars a year to pay bills. Some feel obliged to send money home occasionally to help their families. Others spend less on university meal plans, slipping extra food into their backpacks when they leave a dining hall and hunting for free grub through a Facebook network called CU Meal Share.