Despite the stereotypes, RBHS students still feel sting of socioeconomic gap

Abby Kempf

[dropcap style=”flat” size=”3″]J[/dropcap]unior Anthony Robinson is on the A honor roll and one of the debate team’s most decorated members. He’s obviously intelligent and motivated, but despite his brains and drive these factors won’t necessarily mean he will attend a top university after high school.
[spacer size=”18″] “The colleges I want to go to are costly and my family just doesn’t have the money to pay for them. The colleges that are cheaper don’t really catch my interest. But I suppose beggars can’t be choosers,” Robinson said. “While expensive, I have always believed that every capable and worthy person deserves a chance at a higher education. I’ve been in support of reducing college expenses as much as possible for quite some time.”
Due to an apparent abundance of wealthy students at RBHS, the school has earned the nickname ‘the rich school.’ So it is a natural assumption that every student has the ability to go on to college. However, according to RBHS’s guidance page, only 80 percent of students actually do so. The other 20 percent are left to chase low wage jobs due to their lack of education.
This 20 percent feels other burdens in addition to being unable to afford college. Many students in low income homes face social stigma and are the butt of cruel jokes, Robinson said.
[quote cite=”junior Anthony Robinson”]While expensive, I have always believed that every capable and worthy person deserves a chance at a higher education. I’ve been in support of reducing college expenses as much as possible for quite some time.[/quote] “It’s public school, so I can understand why there is a financial gap between students, but that spills over into social status. Usually the poor people are friends with the other poor people and it’s the same for well-off people,” Robinson said. “The only time these two groups seem to ever interact is when an adult forces them to or they’re in conflict. The other always think they are making a infallible point or joking. I can recall being targeted and to my own shame targeting others of different socioeconomic status.”
So the question arises of how to close this “financial gap” in regards to how it translates to student opportunities to pursue higher education and leave the realms of poverty.
In his recent State of the Union address, President Barack Obama announced his proposal for free community college education for all high school students who maintain a 2.5 grade point average. If all 50 states participate, this proposal could help nine million community college students save an average of $3,800 in tuition, according to the White House. Additionally, high school students who were not previously considering attending college because of the high cost might be persuaded to enroll in community college.
AP United States History teacher and Model United Nations sponsor Chris Fisher embraces President Obama’s proposal, seeing the economic benefits of a bolstered lower and middle class.
Junior Jodie Bappe holds the A+ program application form. The program allows high achieving high school students to attend a two-year community college at no cost to them. feature photo by Sury Rawat
“I think it can be a really good thing. We’re at a time where our economy is changing along with globalization and such. Our export status is not very good and our number three export status is trash. So I think whatever we can do to provide more jobs, to increase the economic power of the middle class through education, vocational or technical training so that what we sell and what we market is in high value is good. If that’s connected to vocational training and to community college, then I think that would be a great thing,” Fischer said. “I think anytime you can have a well trained work force you’re going to do better, right?”
Guidance counselor Dr. Jordan Alexander also wants to see more students in higher education, whether it be in a four year university or in a two year community college.
As someone who regularly counsels students on navigating the college application and decision process, Dr. Alexander often deals with programs that help alleviate the financial burdens of college. The A+ program in Missouri, in Dr. Alexander’s opinion, is an excellent option for students in hard financial situations. He also thinks President Obama’s proposed program would reach out to an even broader group of students.
“We have a similar program in Missouri called the A+ program, which requires certain things of students in order to receive that free two year tuition to a community college, so I think it’s a great program,” Dr. Alexander said. “We have many RBHS students that do take advantage of the A+ program. I think more money would help even more students to help prepare for their career by giving them the two years free.”
Many families don’t have a myriad of options when facing four year colleges’ seemingly insurmountable tuition, but also oppose the idea of only getting an associates degree at a two year community college. Dr. Alexander sees attending a community college for free and then transferring into a four-year college as the perfect solution.
“I think that increasingly with the cost of four year colleges continuing to rise, it’s just not realistic for families to pay for a four year college tuition. Obviously two years free at a community [college] helps them get two years paid for and then students can transfer to a four year school, so they would get that tuition cost for only two years instead of four,” Dr. Alexander said. “I hope that there is some movement towards that happening. I know Tennessee allows people to go to a two year community college for free so hopefully it’ll come here and we can get even more students to further their education were finances not a barrier.”
But closing the gap between students who can afford to attend college and those who cannot is not enough, Robinson said. Many educational opportunities that seem open to all are actually contingent on money in inadvertent ways.
Transportation is a large limiting factor in the extracurricular involvement of many students, Robinson said. If a student’s parents work late into the night or are themselves dependent on buses, the student is essentially barred from clubs or sports teams unless he/she can work out a ride.
“I am on the debate team and I can only attend the after school meetings on Mondays because I can’t get to school any earlier than my bus does,” Robinson said. “Driving myself would solve that, but even for a teenager who works so much after school everyday and even on the weekends, paying for a car is still too expensive. Luckily for me I can try to schedule meetings with team members after school, but even then having parents that are busy does not guarantee that possibility sometimes.”
Having a full resume with a plethora of activities is the norm among college bound students and the inability to partake in clubs and sports can put an otherwise qualified student at a distinct disadvantage. Also, Robinson said, students who need extra tutoring to keep up in fast paced classes may be unable to get the help they seek if they have to leave school only a few moments after the final bell rings or cannot arrive at RBHS until their bus pulls into the front circle 10 minutes before classes start.
“Having activity buses that pick kids up before the regular school buses do and take them home later after could help with transportation,” Robinson said. “I think the principle should always take priority over expenses.”