• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

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Friday Fragments

COVID redux, the time tax and an excellent idea in New Hampshire.

July 30, 2021
 
 

I’ve been in touch with my counterparts around the state to discuss responses to the rise of the Delta variant. Without betraying any confidences, I’ll summarize the consensus thusly:

“Ah, *%#()%&*_%#.”

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If you haven’t seen Annie Lowrey’s piece in The Atlantic about the “time tax,” it’s worth a read. It’s about the many instances in which American culture handles conflicted or ambiguous feelings about social programs -- that is, our insistence on distinguishing the “deserving” from the “undeserving” -- by letting programs exist but making them insanely hard to navigate. Building friction into the process of using them is a way to keep participation, and therefore cost, down.

My only critique is that it isn’t limited to the public sector. Anyone who has ever tried to cancel a health club membership or a cable subscription knows what I mean. The logic is the same, although it runs in the other direction: by making it difficult for people to quit, health clubs and cable operators are able to extract more money from people.

In that spirit, then, I salute the Biden administration’s recent decision to suspend financial aid verifications. The paperwork involved in financial aid can be Kafkaesque, and it’s exquisitely designed to deter use. Pulling back on what amount to mini-audits will reduce the friction in the system and make it somewhat easier for students and their families.

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Speaking of simplicity, huge kudos to White Mountains Community College in New Hampshire. Its IncludED program will provide breakfasts and lunches, plus one dinner per week, to every student enrolled at the college.

The program appears to be focused on this fall, and it’s funded through a series of grants.

I hope they’re able to find ways to make it sustainable. Students who are hungry are not going to be at their best academically. That’s why we have free lunches (and sometimes breakfasts) in K-12. But hunger doesn’t stop when a student turns 18.

The beauty of the program, as I understand it, is that it applies to all students. That means there’s no need to identify which students “need” it or “deserve” it. There’s no sliding scale. There’s no stigma. It’s like OER, but with food.

Doing away with all of those paperwork barriers will almost certainly increase participation. And it respects the autonomy of people who are working hard just to get through, and who may not have the time and/or bandwidth (in either sense of the term) to deal with paperwork battles.

Well done, WMCC! I hope to hear how the program plays out.

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