Social Capital and The Lack Thereof

Graduates walking towards future

I have been watching the PBS NewsHour these past few days to see their week long segment on one of the biggest problems facing American higher education today, namely, the lack of success by incoming students from lower-income households. Here’s the introduction:

More students are enrolling in college, but the percent of students who actually earn a college credential by the age of 24 has only increased significantly for families with the highest household incomes. Between 1970 and 2013, the percent of students earning college credentials from families with incomes in the top quarter of all household rose from 40 to 77 percent.

For students from families in the lowest quarter of all households, attainment of a college credential rose from 6 to just 9 percent.

So why is this occurring if the intelligence and academic proclivity of the two groups are equal through other indicators? In my analysis of the report, it is a lack of what academics call “social capital.”

Let’s have a proper definition here from Comer, 2015.

             I understand social capital as the relationships, norms, and trust acquired in meaningful networks that provide individuals and groups with the capacities to gain the training and tools, or human capital, necessary to participate in the economic and related mainstream of our society. Such participation provides productive and economic benefits to individuals; and/or social and human capital for the society (Putnam 1993, 1995; Coleman 1988; Woolcock 1998).

And to provide a little more accessible illumination of social capital’s nature:

               Individuals acquire social capital in the social and economic networks around them–family and friends, kin and meaningful contacts of the family network; the networks of school and work; economic and governance networks at all levels. Positive interactions with knowledgeable and meaningful family or caretakers in mainstream cultural environments at home facilitate the acquisition of social capital needed for school success (Comer, 2004). Reasonable economic wellbeing makes positive interactions more possible.

In Comer, 2015, he provides an autobiographical sketch that shows how he, coming from a low-income household in an economically-depressed area of Chicago, attained his social capital.

He speaks of how his mother was the housekeeper for some of the most affluent Chicago residents of the time. She would blend in through imitation the best way she could despite her lack of education (she only had 2 years of formal instruction), and Comer’s Father was a Baptist minister respected in the underdeveloped community that he resided in.

So he would have play dates at the affluent employers’ homes and would be taken to places such as museums, baseball games, and travel with social organizations through the Church and school sponsored groups.

So with his mother’s social capital gained through her employment, and his father’s provided by his position in the community, came the ability to pass it on to their children. They were taught through imitation of these other affluent peers and adults how to behave and what to like and do. They adopted much of their culture.

And as for the economic benefits of this social capital, K. Mahmood, 2015, lists that it influences career success (Burt, 1992, and Gabbay and Zuckerman, 1998) and facilitates in finding jobs (Lin and Dumin, 1996). So who you know, and who you’re like, is just as important as what you know.

 

Obama and Community College Proposal

09UP-College-superJumboOn Jan. 9th at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, TN, Pres. Obama issued a landmark proposal for the government to pay the tuition for two-year community college programs nationwide, making them free. It is a stunning step that could raise the quality of life for millions of Americans.

The obtainment of a secondary-education is the path to the middle class for both newly graduated high school students and older adults looking to advance themselves who could not otherwise afford it.

According to a piece in the NYT by Justin Wolfers, in “The Upshot”, the macro economic benefits would also be great for it would increase both output and raise living standards across the middle and lower classes. He continues that:

Mr. Obama’s proposal is an effort to revive education as one of the drivers of economic growth. If he succeeds in persuading more of the next generation to continue beyond high school, and to invest in community college and possibly beyond, there’s a strong chance the rate of economic growth will be bolstered for decades to come. And relative to other ways of strengthening growth, investment in community college is most likely to ensure that the middle class shares in the benefits of it.

Now students must attend community college at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 GPA, and make steady progress toward completing their program to be eligible. So there are strings attached that I am sure the critics will love to claim are not there.

And for those fiscal hawks out there, the government would pay for 75% of the costs (by investing $60 billion over the next 10 years) while the participating state would cover the remaining 25%. But keep in mind that the annual Federal budget is $3.5 trillion , making $60 million a drop in the bucket.

And one other thing. Make sure that we keep in mind that furthering one’s education does not solely benefit us economically. It also makes us more informed, better suited citizens ready to lead our nation through voting choices or even by holding higher-office.

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College Education is More Than Path to Wealth Alone

73f110779A good piece in The Atlantic on how high school students today believe a college education is purely a path to economic prosperity, not an opportunity to awaken intellectually.

The point is also made that this line of thought is prominent amongst lower-income students. I was one of these kids written about and it’s true. With a mother who has an eighth grade education, I did not reside in an affluent neighborhood growing up. So I fell into this trap as I entered college.

But after my initial two years of study at the University of Louisville, I found philosophy, media studies, and sociology, which were priceless in developing my critical thinking skills and have enriched my life immensely.

  Read Here.

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Hitler and Darwin Related According to Charter Schools

darwin_hitler-620x412A frightening article at Salon on how some charter schools in mostly Texas (but expanding) are being controlled by far-right Christian groups that heavily influence the curriculum there.

Creationism vs. evolution, Noah’s “Great Flood,” the Ten Commandments, and blaming Darwin for the Holocaust are all issues that find themselves in these schools.

This is unbelievable for charter schools are still publicly funded.

Read Here.

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The Best Thing We Could Do About Inequality Is Universal Preschool – Emily Badger – The Atlantic Cities

The Best Thing We Could Do About Inequality Is Universal Preschool – Emily Badger – The Atlantic Cities.

Very good little piece from the Atlantic Cities discussing the importance of getting involved in children’s lives and giving them a positive societal influence as soon as possible.

There are two important factors to take away from the article.  The first is the overall effect of earlier schooling for kids:

 A policy of free preschool for all poor children would have a raft of cost-effective benefits for society and the economy: It would increase social mobility, reduce income inequality, raise college graduation rates, improve criminal behavior (saving some of the societal expenses associated with it), and yield higher tax revenue thanks to an increase in lifetime wages…every dollar invested in quality early childhood development yields a 7 to 10 percent return, per child per year, including even younger than preschool.

The difficult part of this, of course, is that it isn’t a quick reward so politicians aren’t really interested.  What does the average elected official really think about pushing for a policy that won’t show any effects of paying off for at least 20 years?  Not much and that is why it is such a mountain to climb when trying to create this type of thing legislatively.

The second important factor is the recognition of the negative effects we are letting continue by not implementing earlier childhood education policies:

A child of parents who never went to college is less likely to go to college herself…And the clustering of poverty in whole parts of town threatens to cut her children off from access to good schools and healthy neighborhoods.

In other words, it’s a cycle of poverty.  We’ve seen how class mobility in the U.S. has decreased as time goes on and this is a factor adding to that.  If we look at the poorer areas of our cities and wonder why things do not change, it’s because we haven’t been willing to truly make the right moves in terms of investing in the future and we are paying a price for that now and will continue to do so for years to come.

This type of investment is not one that will give us instant results.  But ideas like this are rational steps in the right direction to ensure life opportunities grow for so many more citizens across America.

Chomsky On The Elite & Their Assault On The Common Good

230px-ChomskyA good, 2-part transcript from Noam Chomsky on Alternet in which he critically analyzes elite thinking and the resulting societal ills.

Read Here

January 24th Grab Bag Articles of Interest

A few articles to chew on for the day:

  • An article from the Atlantic comparing education results across a few countries with some very interesting charts.  A key piece of why the U.S. scores where is does is summed up with this point: “America’s yawning income inequality means our international test sample has a higher share of low-income students, and their scores depress our national average.”  Some on the right may get angry about class warfare but it must be pointed out it is not just about results later in life.  It’s also about the results of our children’s early life and something no one can control which is simply the luck of the draw as to what socioeconomic class you are born into.  An undeniable truth is fighting inequality is good for the long run outcomes of our educational system and how well the next generation will do when they have the reigns of the country turned over to them.
  • Really good short article and short video from Time on the economic drag that is the U.S. penny.  Canada is on its way to taking the penny out of circulation because of the cost of simply making them and the United States should and eventually will follow suit.  The faster this decision is made the more money we save in the long run.  The nickel is no answer to the problem but there is little doubt something should be done to cut this cost to the U.S. economy.  $60 million in 2010 and rising…
  • A good piece on the melting of Greenland for the Atlantic Cities.  One of the things we are slowly learning about climate change is the effects are self-compounding and the environment is getting a lot worse much faster than expected as these changes play out.  An example from this article:

Take, for instance, melting on the ice’s sheet surface: Warmer or melting ice (or just plain meltwater) absorbs more sunlight than does healthy, cold ice. So as warmer temperatures melt the ice, the ice sheet absorbs more solar heat—melting even more. Another example: As Greenland melts, the massive ice sheet, more than two miles above sea level at its highest point, slumps in altitude. When that happens, more of the ice sheet is bathed in the warmer atmospheric temperatures that are found at lower elevations. So—you guessed it—it melts more.

 

New Rules for Work Not for Lower/Middle Class

In this op-ed for the NYT, Tom Friedman speaks about how the old rules of “working hard and playing by the rules” no longer is a guarantee for economic prosperity in American life. Now one must have a secondary school education and expect to learn and relearn throughout one’s life.

But what got me thinking is how these jobs requiring more than a high school diploma, or even more than a two year degree, are vanishing because manufacturing positions are leaving the U.S. for China, Mexico, and India. So those who are hampered by their socioeconomic status and it’s prevailing culture have little chance to be successful in life. We need to get help to the next generation through better primary and high schools and lower the tuition rates at community colleges and universities.

Now these are not easily tackled problems in the United States, but we can do it if we put more of an emphasis on learning in our popular culture, I believe, for one. It’s not cool amongst Middle/Lower class kids to do homework and raise their hands in class. It’s cool to play sports and be the class clown.

A greater cultural emphasis on getting a good education, and providing those opportunities to all people despite SES, is our only way forward.

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