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2015 September 30 - 03:51 pm

Poverty Dulls the Light of Learning

Pope Francis has returned to the Vatican after spending a busy week in America, where he has touched upon one subject in particular that all community college partisans have come to know and love: that of access. 

In the French religious newsletter "ichthus.fr", the Pope is stated to have cited one of the principal causes of misery, of sorrow, of destitution in our world as being people's undependable, unequal access to l'éducation.

Interestingly, for community college supporters, the French l'éducation comprises a person's complete upbringing, his home life and his time in school. It amounts to its literal meaning, a drawing out of the darkness of ignorance into the brilliant light of awareness. 

But, as Pope Francis stated, poverty dulls that light. 

In 2013, Skyline College's Regina Stroud cited poverty as one of the key barriers to academic achievement. "The number of community college students from low-income families has steadily increased over the past two decades," Stroud states, but all too often, "...the public narrative has shifted from open access to rationing of higher education."  

And it is also all too often the case that needy students are being taught by financially distressed teachers, too. We teach part-time, and our lives comprise money-scrambling...full time.

As NBC News reported in April, 2015, one in four families of community college part-time teachers is enrolled in some sort of public assistance program in Colorado. In Connecticut, one in nine part-timers lives below the poverty line. In Washington State, two-thirds of public community and technical college teachers are paid less than $17,000 a year. 

The Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University has pointed out the interesting details from a longitudinal study: 44 percent of the nation's families earning less than $25,000/ year send at least one family member to a community college. And in many states of the United States of America, these poor students are being taught by professors with years of experience, with publications, with many college degrees, but without enough income to survive satisfactorily, not to mention comfortably.

This is the shame of which the Pope speaks, and it is the shame cited by a writer on the blog theprofessorisin.com: “It's hard...not to beat myself up with shame for working so hard through undergraduate school and then two graduate degrees, for spending tens of thousands on tuition and for spending so much time over the years helping students learn. Such altruistic intentions appear to be a character flaw in the eyes of my employer, however, and I don’t understand why.”

This is an ongoing problem; it seems not to go away. In fact, money seems always to be available to hire new administrators, even to build more structures, but, as NYC Future has written, there is often not enough money for the labs that (especially poor) students need, and there is certainly never enough to hire more full-time faculty to teach.... especially when we thousands of part-timers have cried out, open-mouthed, for even the dregs of work.

How can access be improved? How can we help the poor student to enter, to feel comfortable at, to learn in a community college?  And how can we help ourselves to feel the integral part that we know our so-called part-time life is? How can we escape the destiny of doom that is part-timery, the knowledge that once we have been so categorized, we will never escape? How can the dullness of things inaccessible be wiped away to let in the light?

Pope Francis has called for more than simple analysis and discussion of these problems. He has called for enlightened action. Let us storm our brains for our own action, in our students' interest and in our own.

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