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Monthly Archives: November 2015

The Monroe County Sheriff’s Department Comes Through Again!

The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office will be donating 10 computers, laptops and desktops, for our Take Stock in Children students who do not have a computer at home to use for their school work.  TSIC 9th grade scholar Adrianna Otero, who will be receiving one of the computers, is shown (below) with her mentor, Donatella Vavnucci-Kelly,  Sheriff Rick Ramsay, and TSIC Coordinator Chuck Licis.

Computer donation

To learn more about Take Stock in Children Monroe County or if you are interested in becoming a mentor, please contact Chuck Licis at 305-293-1546 or send an email to Chuck Licis: chuck.licis@keysschools.com

How Many College Students are Going Hungry?

By Steve Kolowich November 03, 2015

Students at Western Oregon U. can shop free at a student-run food pantry stocked with donated groceries and unused provisions from dining halls. Christie Colasurdo, student coordinator of the pantry, surveys the inventory.

Toni Airaksinen knows that hunger can hide beneath a veneer of achievement. She worked her way to Barnard College while growing up on food stamps.

So when she arrived at Barnard, the women’s college affiliated with Columbia University, Ms. Airaksinen suspected that some students would be waging similar battles in the shadows of the elite university’s Manhattan campus.

“Whether you’re at Columbia or you’re at a community college, there will always be people struggling to make ends meet,” says Ms. Airaksinen. And when money gets tight, food is often the first expense to go.

The sophomore was nevertheless struck by stories her classmates told: passing out in academic buildings after skipping meals; eating cereal three times a day; planning their schedules around when a local grocery store sets out free cheese samples.

“They would say things like, Oh, I’m going to the Republicans’ club meeting,” says Ms. Airaksinen. “I would say, Wow, I didn’t know you were a Republican. And they’d say, I’m not, they have free food there.”

The cliche of the thrifty student who subsists on ramen noodles has given way to a more troubling portrait: the hungry student who needs help and may not know how to ask for it.

Colleges, including wealthy ones like Columbia, have only recently begun to understand how many students on their campuses have trouble paying for food. As college costs rise, institutional belts tighten, and more low-income and first-generation students enroll, the cliché of the thrifty student who subsists on ramen noodles has given way to a more troubling portrait: the hungry student who needs help and may not know how to ask for it.

The earliest available study of “food insecurity” among college students was published eight years ago at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. Researchers found that 21 percent of students there struggled with food insecurity, a term that refers to people who skip meals or don’t get proper nutrition because they can’t afford it. A new study, focusing on first-year students at Arizona State University, put the rate around 34 percent.

Studies on other campuses have yielded a range of figures, from 14 percent at the University of Alabama to 59 percent at Western Oregon University.

Meg Bruening, an assistant professor of nutrition at Arizona State, attributes the variation to differences in the sample populations. “I don’t think we really have a good understanding of how big the problem is,” she says. In nearly every case, however, the rate of food insecurity among students was much higher than the rates for the general population.

‘There Is Stigma, There Is Shame’

Hunger often coincides with other problems that tend to get more attention. In her study of first-year students, Ms. Bruening found that those who couldn’t rely on regular meals also were more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. Other studies have tied food insecurity to low-income households and unstable housing situations.

Like homelessness or mental-health issues, food insecurity is not always easy to notice from the outside. When researchers at the City University of New York surveyed more than a thousand undergraduates on 17 of its campuses in 2010, 19 percent said they knew somebody at the university who had food or hunger problems. In fact, nearly 40 percent of students were food-insecure at some level.

One reason is that students tend not to talk about it. “At the end of the day there is stigma, there is shame, even in the low-income, first-generation community,” says Ms. Airaksinen. Asking for help can be embarrassing.

Debbie Diehm, an assistant to the vice president for student affairs at Western Oregon, remembers years ago when a worried faculty member sent her a student who evidently had been missing meals. Ms. Diehm offered to help the student apply for a grant from the university’s student emergency fund. But the application form, which required only a name and a short explanation for the request, struck him as daunting.

“He said, ‘I just can’t do that,’” recalls Ms. Diehm. “Filling out a one-page application for foundation dollars was too much for that person to do, no matter what encouragement I gave.”

Western Oregon’s student-affairs office has since started giving out gift cards for local grocery stores, worth up to $100, to students who seek help buying food. At CUNY, where only 6 percent of undergraduates reported using food stamps despite the high rate of food insecurity, officials on several campuses have offered to help students navigate the sometimes complicated process of figuring out if they are eligible for public assistance.

Student-Led Interventions

Many interventions have been led by students. At Western Oregon and elsewhere, students run campus food pantries, stocked with donated groceries and unused food from the dining halls, where their classmates can shop free. Campus food banks are proliferating; the College and University Food Bank Alliance now counts more than 200 members. Often the banks are started by students, although college officials have become increasingly interested in running them, according to Clare Cady, director of the alliance.

At Columbia students are using technology to fight the problem. Last spring undergraduates in a campus group dedicated to the needs of first-generation and low-income students created a Facebook page called “CU Meal Share,” where Columbia students could volunteer to swipe their classmates into dining halls. (“I can swipe people into Ferris tonight at 6:30!” wrote one student in late October, referring to a campus eatery.) This fall a pair of undergraduates unveiled a mobile app that matches hungry students with nearby meal donors.

At Columbia U., a pair of undergraduates unveiled a mobile app that matches hungry students with nearby meal donors.

The college, in a bid to encourage this kind of student-to-student charity while also ensuring privacy, has created a kind of virtual food bank, the “emergency meal fund,” stocked with donated meal points. Rather than asking a classmate for a swipe, students now can request six free meals per semester from the fund through a dining-hall official, no questions asked.

Occasional free meals can help, says Ms. Airaksinen, but ultimately she sees the emergency meal fund as a “bandage solution.” Officials have been receptive to students’ concerns about food insecurity, but the Barnard sophomore has found it disheartening to watch her classmates struggle to fulfill such a basic need.

“It is really frustrating to know that the university has so many assets, so much capital, but to realize that they’re spending their money on things like lawn care,” says Ms. Airaksinen. “There’s just so many different ways where money that could be directed toward this issue is spent on other things.”

Columbia officials pointed to the university’s generous financial aid, as well as its many outreach and assistance programs for low-income and first-generation students — including tutoring, stipends for unpaid internships, and a closet in the career center where students can borrow nice clothes for job interviews.

Beyond administering the emergency meal fund, officials have recently tried spreading the word about an existing pool of money called the “deans’ assistance fund.” Low-income students can apply to that fund for help in covering unexpected expenses such as medical bills, winter coats, and meals during semester breaks, when the dining halls are closed.

One Problem Among Many

Colleges have been eager to lend a hand to hungry students, but some have wrestled with the question of how to make the problem of food insecurity a priority.

“It’s a hard thing for a university to acknowledge,” says Nicholas Freudenberg, a professor of public health at Hunter College who has led CUNY’s research on food insecurity. “On the one hand, the evidence is pretty good that hungry students learn less well.”

On the other, institutions might not have the resources, or the mission, to feed students in addition to teaching them, says Mr. Freudenberg. “It means taking on one more task,” he says. “So I think there’s been some ambivalence about our findings and what to do about it.”

Officials at CUNY are doing a follow-up study to find out how things have changed since 2010. Mr. Freudenberg worries that the university’s push to educate students about their eligibility for food stamps, which has taken aim at six community colleges and one four-year institution in the CUNY system, is not reaching enough students.

The consultations may be helping thousands of people on a handful of campuses claim a spot on the public dole, he says, and the pantries might help them get by in a pinch, but those measures probably haven’t made much of a dent in the larger problem.

“We know it’s still a problem,” says the professor. “It hasn’t gone away.”

Steve Kolowich writes about how colleges are changing, and staying the same, in the digital age.

Where’s Best? The Value of University

New federal data reveal which colleges do most for their graduates’ pay packets.  They are not the ones you might expect.  Click here to read the article from The Economist…

Is College Just About Employment?

From The Chronicle for Higher Education:

When Dana Lambert counsels students who plan to major in theater, they usually ask: Will I be able to support myself after college? Yes, it can be done, she tells them — though maybe not at your parents’ standard of living.

But with many other families, says Ms. Lambert, a school counselor at West Milford Township High School, in New Jersey, that question never comes up.

Higher-education purists may not like it, but going to college and getting a job are tightly connected in the public imagination, and that seems unlikely to change.

Should it? The federal government sure seems to think so. One of the most prominent pieces of information on its College Scorecard, the consumer-information website the Obama administration recently revamped as part of its college-accountability push, is the “salary after attending” for each institution. It’s a rather unintuitive data point — counting only federal financial-aid recipients, lumping together graduates and dropouts, and looking at earnings 10 years after initial enrollment — but it does send a signal.

What you stand to make after college, the government is telling prospective students, ought to be a factor in how you choose that college. Higher-education purists may not like it, but going to college and getting a job are tightly connected in the public imagination, and that seems unlikely to change.

Still, there’s a big difference between looking at earnings and using them to make thoughtful college decisions. That’s partly because, for each institution, the scorecard shows only its students’ median earnings and the share of former students making more than the average high-school-diploma holder. That doesn’t provide a real sense of salary variation, much less what causes it.

So let’s say that earnings are part of the college conversation. Where should the conversation go from there?

For Ms. Lambert, discussing earnings is situational. “I take my cues from the family,” she says. Sometimes there’s good reason to evaluate college expenses alongside expected earnings. When students come in with brochures from for-profit automotive programs, she’ll tell them that they can take a similar course at a lower price at a community college. Just because a program costs more, she says, doesn’t mean its graduates make more.

With some families, the conversation is less about the payoff of different college pathways and more about the first-order question of whether students need college at all. Ms. Lambert has worked with some parents who’ve had successful careers without a college degree, in fields like law enforcement. Those parents aren’t always convinced that their children even need a degree, Ms. Lambert says.

The job market changes, too, Ms. Lambert adds. A career that sounds stable or lucrative now could be risky or in low demand by the time students finish college.

So Ms. Lambert encourages students to consider much more than their possible future salaries. What can someone do with a history major? What careers exist in medicine besides being a doctor? “I’m more about, Find your passion,” Ms. Lambert says, “and figure out what you can do with that.”

Variables Abound

Letting prospective students know what they might earn “in the broadest terms” is important, says Jim McCorkell, chief executive of College Possible, a nonprofit organization that helps low-income students get into and succeed in college. Comparing the salaries of workers with and without college degrees can provide a corrective to all the rhetoric questioning the value of a higher education — a narrative Mr. McCorkell worries could dissuade low-income, first-generation students from going.

But when salary numbers get more specific, Mr. McCorkell is less sure they’re useful. Students who visit the College Scorecard are encouraged to “compare schools now” and to consider earnings alongside two other measures — a college’s graduation rate and its “average annual cost.”

Perhaps comparisons along those lines could help prospective students avoid predatory colleges, he says. Beyond that, he says, “I’m not quite sure what to make out of the earnings in terms of distinguishing colleges.”

As Louise Larsen sees it, affordability nearly always deserves consideration in the college search. Ms. Larsen, who teaches Spanish at a public high school in New Jersey and does college consulting on the side, also believes that there are cases in which expected earnings should play into college choice. But not because students will see vastly different earnings if they choose one college over another. The key difference, as she sees it, is debt.

When students tell Ms. Larsen they want to be teachers, she tells them that they’re choosing a great career — and that they’ll thank themselves later if they don’t take on too much debt to pursue it. That means finding an affordable college option.

Whatever prospective students gain from looking at earnings, they’ll gain by considering them in context. After all, lots of variables unaccounted for in college-level earnings data will play into what you’re paid: your major, whether you graduate, the broader economic conditions around you, the sort of work you do, where you live, your sex and race, your job performance, and more. But most high schoolers aren’t in a position to understand all of that on their own.

College is an investment, says Joyce Serido, an associate professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. And anyone making that investment has much to think of beyond financial return. Some students have absorbed the message that they should go to college, she says, but they are still unclear about why — even after they’ve enrolled. Is the goal to land a good job? Is it education for education’s sake?

A sense of their own purpose should inform the choices students make, Ms. Serido says. The path from college to career unfolds over years — sometimes many years. After all the time and money they spend moving toward a professional destination, will students like where they end up?

Even if they have a career in mind, students might not realize what it will take to break into it. “College may just be the starting point for you to get the job you think this is going to lead to,” Ms. Serido says. Many desirable jobs require more time, education, and money than some students may be prepared to invest.

Besides, students may not know what the work in their chosen career would actually be like, Ms. Serido says. “Sometimes,” she says, “we get enamored of the movie-star or TV portrayal of something.” That leads some people down career paths that turn out not to be a great fit. “There are so many lawyers,” she says, “who hate law and don’t practice.”

Personal Missions

For a student whos wants to earn as much as possible with only a bachelor’s degree, the advice is pretty clear: Become an engineer. But recognizing that a field pays well and having the skill set to succeed in it are two different things.

Some pathways through college are high stakes, says Laura Hamilton, an associate professor of sociology at the University of California at Merced. Majoring in biology, continuing on to medical school, and becoming a doctor can be a fulfilling and lucrative trajectory. Unless it doesn’t work out. There aren’t many prospects for a biology major with a 3.0, Ms. Hamilton says. Parents with professional jobs tend to grasp those nuances. “They’re well aware,” she says, that “getting a four-year degree — just a general four-year degree — is no guarantee of anything.”

But families unfamiliar with college might overlook those details. And students who grow up in low-income households and communities may not have the same level of exposure to professional paths as do their more-advantaged peers. That’s problematic because low-income students have less room for error. After all, the urgency of making a good living right after graduation depends in part on parents’ ability to buoy their children’s financial lives after college.

With all of that in mind, what does a smarter conversation about college and career look like? Students need to have a backup in case their initial plan falls through, says Greg Johnson, chief operations officer of Bottom Line, a nonprofit organization that helps low-income students into and through college. Above all, he says, they must realize how crucial it is that they graduate.

With students coming to college from such different backgrounds, earning a good living is a matter of perspective. Rosalva Aguilar is a high-school senior in New York who participates in Bottom Line. Ms. Aguilar, who works at a day-care center during the summer and volunteers there during the school year, wants to major in early-childhood education. “I know that teachers don’t make that much money,” she says, “but I’m very passionate.”

She’s comfortable with her plan. “It’s better to have a job you love than a job you’re miserable in,” Ms. Aguilar says. As for her parents, “they think being a teacher is really good,” she says. Teachers earn more than her family does.

Mr. McCorkell, of College Possible, is frustrated by the debate over whether college is about earning a living or building a life. Those ideas don’t have to be in tension, he says. Isn’t the point for students to discover work they are passionate about?

Discovering the doors that college can open, and deciding which one to walk through, is a big undertaking, one that doesn’t end at the point of choosing a college. So perhaps salary data works best as a jumping-off point for more personalized questions. How well those questions are answered depends on who’s on hand to sort out what those numbers really mean.

Beckie Supiano writes about college affordability, the job market for new graduates, and professional schools, among other things

Take Stock welcomes 35 New Students

TSIC Contract Signing HOB 2015

Click here to read the article in The Key West Citizen.