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She nicknamed herself after a metal band and vowed to become the first in her family to earn a college degree. But by the time the triplets donned mortarboards in the class oftheir story seemed to validate the promise of education as the great equalizer. Angelica, a daughter of a struggling Mexican immigrant, was headed to Emory University.
Four years later, their story seems less like a tribute to upward mobility than a study of obstacles in an age of soaring economic inequality. Not one of them has a four-year degree. Only one is still studying full time, and two have crushing debts. Each showed the ability to do college work, even excel at it. But the need to earn money brought one set of strains, campus alienation brought others, and ties to boyfriends not in school added complications. With little guidance from family or school officials, college became a leap that they braved without a safety net.
The story of their lost footing is also the story of something larger — the growing role that education plays in preserving class divisions. Poor students have long trailed affluent peers in school performance, but from grade-school tests to college completion, the gaps are growing.
With school success and earning prospects ever more entwined, the consequences carry far: education, a force meant to erode class barriers, appears to be fortifying them. Duncan, an economist at the University of California, Irvine.
The growing role of class in academic success has taken experts by surprise since it follows decades of equal opportunity efforts and counters racial trends, where differences have narrowed. It adds to fears over recent evidence suggesting that low-income Americans have lower chances of upward mobility than counterparts in Canada and Western Europe. Bailey and Susan M. Dynarski of the University of Michigan. Now the gap is 45 points.
While both groups improved their odds of finishing college, the affluent improved much more, widening their sizable lead.
Likely reasons include soaring incomes at the top and changes in family structure, which have left fewer low-income students with the support of two-parent homes. Neighborhoods have grown more segregated by class, leaving lower-income students increasingly concentrated in lower-quality schools. And even after ing for financial aid, the costs of attending a public university have risen 60 percent in the past two decades.
Many low-income students, feeling the need to help out at home, are deterred by the thought of years of lost wages and piles of debt.
In placing their hopes in education, the Galveston teenagers followed a tradition as old as the country itself. But if only the prosperous become educated — and only the educated prosper — the schoolhouse risks becoming just another place where the fortunate preserve their edge.
No one pictured the teenagers as even friends, much less triplets. Angelica was the product of a large Mexican-American family, which she sought both to honor and surpass. Her mother, Ana Gonzales, had crossed the border illegally asgained citizenship and settled the clan in Galveston, where she ruled by force of will.
She once grounded Angelica for a month for coming home a minute late. Home was an apartment in a subdivided house, with relatives in the adjacent units. Family meals and family feuds went hand in hand. Her grandmother spoke little English. With a quirky mix of distance and devotion, Angelica studied German instead of Spanish and gave the fiesta celebrating her 15th birthday a Goth theme, with fairies and dragons on the tabletop globes. But school was all business. Her grandmother and aunts worked at Walmart alongside Mrs. Lady, and Angelica was rankled equally by how little money they made and how little respect they got.
Upward Bound asked her to rank the importance of college on a scale of 1 to Melissa also wanted to get off the island — and more immediately out of her house.
For her mother, addiction to painkillers and severe depression followed. Her grandparents offered her one refuge, and school offered another. By eighth grade, Melissa was at the top of her class and sampling a course at a private high school. She yearned to apply there but swore the opposite to her mother and grandparents. Protecting families from their own ambition is a skill many poor students learn. New to Upward Bound, Melissa noticed that one student always ate alone and crowded in beside her.
Bianca ed the following year with a cheerfulness that disguised any trace of family tragedy. To Bianca, family meant everything. She arrived just in time for the trip at the heart of triplets lore — the Upward Bound visit to Chicago. While they had known they wanted more than Galveston offered, somewhere between the Sears Tower and Northwestern University they glimpsed what it might be. The trip at once consecrated a friendship and defined it around shared goals.
Ball High was hard on goals. In addition to Bosco, a drug-sniffing dog profiled in the local paper, the campus had four safety officers to deter fights. Melissa now marvels at what a good parent her mother has become to her younger brother after she stopped drinking and was treated for her depression. But when she returned from the high school trip to Chicago, the conflicts grew so intense that Miss G.
Among the many ways he let her down was getting another girl pregnant. Yet as many times as they broke up, they got back together again.
Working three jobs, she missed so much school that she nearly failed to graduate, but she still finished in the top quarter of her class. It was never clear which would prevail — her habit of courting disaster or her talent for narrow escapes. Returning from Chicago, Bianca jumped a grade, which allowed her to graduate with Melissa and Angelica. A score of 1, on the math and reading portions of her SAT ranked Are you a poor struggling college girl at the 84th percentile nationwide.
When the German teacher suddenly quit, the school tapped her to finish teaching the first-year course. Fred was devoted — too devoted, Mrs. Lady thought, and she warned Angelica not to let the relationship keep her from going to college. Senior year raced by, with Miss G. Despite all the campus visits, choices were made without the intense supervision that many affluent students enjoy. Bianca, anchored to the island by family and an older boyfriend, chose community college.
Angelica had thought of little beyond Northwestern and was crestfallen when she was rejected. She had sent a last-minute application to a school in Atlanta that had e-mailed her. Only after getting in did she discover that she had achieved something special.
It had even started a program to relieve the neediest students of high debt burdens. Plus an unseen campus a thousand miles away had an innate appeal. If Melissa and Angelica felt that heading off to university set them apart from other low-income students, they were right. Fewer than 30 percent of students in the bottom quarter of incomes even enroll in a four-year school.
And among that group, fewer than half graduate. Income has always shaped academic success, but its importance is growing. Professor Reardon, the Stanford sociologist, examined a dozen reading and math tests dating back 25 years and found that the gap in scores of high- and low-income students has grown by 40 percent, even as the difference between blacks and whites has narrowed. While race once predicted scores more than class, the opposite now holds. By eighth grade, white students surpass blacks by an average of three grade levels, while upper-income students are four grades ahead of low-income counterparts.
One explanation is simply that the rich have clearly gotten richer. A generation ago, families at the 90th percentile had five times the income of those at the 10th percentile. Now they have 10 times as much. But as shop class gave way to computer labs, schools may have also changed in ways that make parental income and education more important. SAT coaches were once rare, even for families that could afford them. Now they are part of a vast college preparation industry. Certainly as the payoff to education has grown — college graduates have greatly widened their earnings lead — affluent families have invested more in it.
They have tripled the amount by which they outspend low-income families on enrichment activities like sports, music lessons and summer camps, according to Professor Duncan and Prof. Richard Murnane of Harvard. In addition, upper-income parents, especially fathers, have increased their child-rearing time, while the presence of fathers in low-income homes has declined.Are you a poor struggling college girl
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