The majority of college students today had the privilege of transitioning from high school to college in a year or less, making the transition to higher education easy. I think it’s safe to say our freshman-selves would’ve argued with the term “easy transition”. But what happens if you needed a gap year to decide what major to pursue, or needed to work and save money so you could even pay for college. Unfortunately, this gap year (often years) for many students leads them to pursue a career without a higher education limiting their potential achievements in the long-run. Furthermore, many in disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds don’t even consider the possibility of obtaining a college degree because it’s fiscally impossible, or they simply don’t know anyone who has a higher degree so they can’t relate to anyone. A college education has become a necessity in the job market, and in order for everyone to have a fair fight towards the American dream we need to level the playing field.
Our guest tonight focuses on how social policy influences the accessibility of higher education to people of lower incomes, non-traditional, and first generation students. Terese Jones, a 4th year Ph.D. student in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, explores the institutional and personal hurdles that prevent many people from obtaining a higher education. Imagine trying to pay for college when most scholarships are geared towards the younger demographic, or trying to adjust to a rigorous 10-week quarter system from a “9-5” job. You begin to see a picture of why going back to school after a career, or even a few years away from school, can become difficult to transition back into.
One of the theories Terese is exploring is called the cumulative advantage theory as a potential explanation for why students of lower socioeconomic status do not succeed to the same degree as their more affluent counterparts. Think about moving to an entirely new city where you don’t know anyone and need to find a job. If you have money in the bank you can get an apartment and start looking for a job in your field; however if you’ve moved with no money you’re likely to take the first job coming your way to pay for an apartment before you ever think of looking for a job you will enjoy. 30 years later the person who had money has advanced in their career far quicker compared to the person who arrived empty handed. The benefits of a small advantage at the beginning of ones life, produces a disproportionate benefit through their life-course when compared to someone who did not have the small advantage at the beginning.
Terese also remembers her mother going back to school to finish her GED when she was only 12, but the difficulty her mom had with finishing school while maintaining a full household was extremely challenging. Even though Terese has extensive experience with the social system working in Chicago with the homeless, and Seattle at a women’s shelter, she still found that some applications and processes were just plain confusing and hard to fit into her schedule. This troubling experience led her to realize even though she’s familiar with the paperwork, the process was not trivial which gave her the motivation to pursue a higher degree at Oregon State.
Tune in tonight to hear this terrific story of how Terese aims to continue helping others as she focuses on some programs at Linn-Benton Community College can increase the chances students attend and finish a college degree. You can listen online here or on 88.7FM at 7PM!