"Sixteen years ago, Patricia (P.J.) Johnston of Des Moines made the front page of this paper for collecting her diploma from Drake University at just 19. “I think I’m probably meant to be an academic,” Johnston was quoted as saying. And she has been, getting a master’s in one institution, going to seminary at another, doing field research in India in her area of interest — Indian Catholicism — and currently working toward a Ph.D in religious studies at the University of Iowa....As it is, she sleeps on her office floor on the days she has to be in Iowa City, riding the Greyhound bus in from Des Moines."
She helps support her mother with the approximately $16,000 she earns as a teaching assistant. But she is in danger of dropping out before getting her doctorate because she has hit her limit on loans, and most likely won’t be able to get a teaching assistant position next year because of cuts in undergraduate programs.
If that happens, she wrote me, she would be this far along, “facing the job market in my mid-30s with no marketable job skills of any kind.”....
The statistics bear out what Johnston describes as “a strict academic caste system.” According to a recent New York Times blog, 74 percent of students at the most competitive colleges have families earning in the top 25 percent. Only 3 percent come from families earning in the bottom quarter, which means higher education is reinforcing rather than negating class divisions.
Disproportionate numbers of kids from working-class families who could, based on their test scores and grade-point averages, be getting a college degree, are either not going to college or not finishing — “relegating them to a life of stagnant or declining wages,” wrote Thomas B. Edsall on March 12 in the New York Times blog.
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