4Wolanin Joe Jane

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					    Joe and Jane Go To College:                                                                6    The answer, I believe, lies in the fact that for America’s economic, social, and
                                                                                                    political elite, the reality of college is, in fact, much closer to the “traditional”
    Today’s college student is not who you think                                                    picture. Students from upper-income families or from families where one or both
                                                                                                    parents have a college degree are much more likely to be among the 10 percent or
    by Thomas R. Wolanin                                                                            fewer of students who attend selective colleges, rely on parental support, attend
    Thomas R. Wolanin is a senior associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy and        college right after high school, attend full-time, work part-time or not at all, are
    former assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education. This commentary was             unmarried without dependents, attend a four-year college and live on campus.
    written for Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service and appeared in The San Diego Union         7    Eight of America’s last nine presidents fit the “traditional” profile of college
    Tribune, October 26, 2003, G6-8.
                                                                                                    attendance. The exception is Lyndon Johnson, who worked his way through a
1   Students fretting over SAT exams. College tours with the family. Students                       non-selective state college. Indeed, six of the last nine presidents (Kennedy,
    nervously waiting for letters of acceptance or rejection and facing an agonizing                Nixon, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush) were full-
    choice about which college to attend. Shopping and packing up for dorm                          time students living on campus at a private four-year college, an experience
    living away from home.                                                                          shared by only 7 percent of current undergraduate students.

2   These images are the annual staples of newspaper and television reporting                  8    By income and social status, newspaper editors and television producers are
    about students heading for college. They reflect an assumption about the                        certainly among America’s elite. They are providing the public with a
    “typical” college student: one who receives support from his or her family to                   distorted picture of American higher education because they are writing and
    pay for college, attends a competitive or selective college, is planning to attend              broadcasting about what they know best and what they assume to be typical,
    college full time and directly after high school and goes away from home to                     namely their own experience and the experience of their children. Or, if it was
    live on a college campus.                                                                       not their personal experience and their children are not yet of college age, it is
                                                                                                    the gold standard that they wish their college experience had been and what
3   However, this image is no more typical than the old movies portraying                           they aspire to for their children.
    students with raccoon-skin coats and hip flasks waving pennants and riding in
    a Stutz Bearcat. The reality of students in American higher education is quite             9    The faulty portrayal of higher education by the mass media would be little worth
    different.                                                                                      noting if it did not have some serious and unfortunate public consequences.

4   Slightly more than half of undergraduate students do not rely on their parents             10   For example, the distorted picture probably significantly contributes to the
    for support.        Seventy-five percent of undergraduate students are                          American public overestimating the cost of higher education in national
    nontraditional, meaning that they have one or more of the following                             surveys. When most of what low-and moderate-income families, in particular,
    characteristics: not a high school graduate, not enrolled in higher education                   read and see is reports of the tuitions in excess of $30,000 at elite, selective
    directly after high school, attending part-time, working full-time, financially                 colleges, they conclude that this is the norm. This perception becomes an
    independent of their family, married or have their own dependents.                              additional barrier discouraging these families’ children from feeling that
                                                                                                    higher education is possible for them.
5   Conversely, the traditional image of a college student, in fact, only describes 25
    percent of undergraduate students – those who enroll in college directly after             11 Another example is affirmative action, which is largely an issue about
    high school, are attending full-time, are working part-time or not at all, are                admissions to the selective colleges enrolling about 5 percent of the students.
    financially dependent on their parents and are unmarried without dependents.                  An extra boost in admissions is irrelevant if there is no competition. Yet, the
    Further, only about 10 percent of undergraduate students have the                             mass media image featuring selective colleges as typical implies that
    characteristics of traditional students and also attend a a four-year college or              restrictions on affirmative action would narrow higher education opportunities
    university and live on campus. If we further narrow our focus to traditional                  for minorities at all institutions, not just at the small, albeit important, group of
    students who live on campus at a private college or university, we are talking                selective colleges and universities. Thus, when federal courts or states restrict
    about 7 percent of undergraduates. Finally, of the approximately 2,100 four-                  affirmative action, it has a significant ripple effect in discouraging minority
    year colleges and universities, only about 150 of them are selective, meaning                 enrollments in all of higher education, not just at the selective colleges.
    that they accept less than half of those who apply. These selective four-year              12 Newspaper editors and television producers need to stop looking in the mirror
    colleges and universities enroll about 5 percent of undergraduates. To                        when they think about the typical college student experience. They are
    analysts, scholars, and researchers interested in the current state of American               currently misinforming the public and making access to college appear much
    higher education, these facts are commonplace, unexceptional and well-                        more difficult to attain than it, in fact, is.
    known. How is it, then, that they seem to have escaped the attention of
    America’s mass media?                                                                                                                             FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY

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