Leonardt - College Dropout Boom

Leonardt - College Dropout Boom - 41 The College Dropout...

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41 The College Dropout Boom DAVID LEONARDT The Four Questions 1. What is the problem? 2. Is it a social problem? 3. What are the causes of the problem? 4. Is there a way to alleviate the problem? Topics Covered Higher education Class inequality Economic mobility Meritocracy Elite colleges 0 ne of the biggest decisions Andy Blevins has ever made, and one of the few he now regrets, never seemed like much of a decision at all. It just felt like the natural thing to do. In the summer of 1995, he was moving boxes of soup cans, paper towels, and dog food across the floor of a supermarket warehouse, one of the big- gest buildings in the area of southwest Virginia surrounding the town of Chilhowie. The heat was brutal. The job had sounded impossible when he arrived fresh off his first year of college, looking to make some summer money, still a skinny teenager with sandy blond hair and a nar- row, freckled face. But hard work done well was something he understood, even if he was the first college boy in his family. Soon he was making bonuses on top of his $6.75 an hour, more money than either of his parents made. His girlfriend was around, and so were his hometown buddies. Andy acted more outgoing with them, more relaxed. People in Chilhowie noticed that. It was just about the perfect summer. So the thought crossed his mind: maybe it did not have to end. Maybe he would take a break from college and keep working. He had been getting Cs and Ds, and college never felt like home, anyway. "I enjoyed working hard, getting the job done, getting a paycheck," Blevins recalled. "I just knew I didn't want to quit." So he quit college instead, and with that, Andy Blevins joined one of the largest and fastest- growing groups of young adults in America. He became a college dropout, though nongraduate may be the more precise term. Many people like him plan to return to get their degrees, even if few actually do. Almost one in three Americans in their mid-twenties now fall into this group, up from one in five in the late 1960s, when the Census Bureau began keeping such data. Most come from poor and working-class families. The phenomenon has been largely over- looked in the glare of positive news about the country's gains in education. Going to college has become the norm throughout most of the United States, even in many places where col- lege was once considered an exotic destination— places like Chilhowie, an Appalachian hamlet with SOURCE: From David Leonardt, "The College Dropout Boom," in Class Matters, ed. The New York Times, pp. 87-104. Copyright © 2005 by the New York Times Co. Reprinted by permission. 453
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454 PART VIII SOCIAL PROBLEMS RELATED TO EDUCATION a simple brick downtown. At elite universities, class- rooms are filled with women, blacks, Jews, and Lat- inos, groups largely excluded two generations ago. The American system of higher learning seems to
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Leonardt - College Dropout Boom - 41 The College Dropout...

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