This café called Sally Loo’s in San Luis Obispo is full of students and students with their parents. It’s the first week of school and the parents are treating their youngsters to the final breakfast before letting them go into the whirlwind of college life. What a momentous occasion for parents and kids. I haven’t experienced it yet with my own kids. Maybe one day. It is kind of an American thing, though. In this cafe today it is a rich white kid, American thing. At least that’s what it looks like here. My new friend from Ghana told us yesterday that he ups the diversity rate here on campus drastically. “This school is very bad in diversity,” he explained. Walking around town, you see tons of young college kids, but hardly any are black, Hispanic or Asian. Cal Poly, that’s the colloquial for the university here, is extremely difficult to get into. For some reason, minorities don’t manage to make it. Other elite schools like Stanford and Berkeley are much more diverse.
I wonder what it’s like for this mother to be dropping off her 18 year old son. He’s a high-achiever for sure. Straight A’s in high school and honors on top of that. She certainly has high expectations and he better deliver because it’s costing a fortune. Mom’s flipping the bill though. Millions of other kids across the country are finishing school with a $40,000 debt hanging over like a dark cloud. Not this rich kid from LA, though.
What’s the problem with that? The kid worked hard, he’s smart and he made it. It’s meritocracy, right? Well partly. How can that be fair in a country with mass incarceration and tragic levels of poverty? A kid growing up in a disadvantaged family is almost never going to manage to get perfect grades, no matter how smart she is. The rich mother here in the café has been preparing her son for this for years. Countless, expensive programs for improving SATs, private tutors for math and extra-curricular activities.
Maybe I am just viewing it all through my filtered, liberal glasses. Well, of course I am. We all do. Some would defend the education system. The kids with the best grades will get into the colleges. How can you ignore, though, that the socio-economic background of a kid plays a role? How can it be fair that some kids have to take out high-interest loans to finance college while others have mom and dad send in the checks each month?
Student debt is a gigantic problem in this country and finally there is a national discussion about making college tuition free. In California, for example, junior colleges are beginning to waive tuition fees.
These pictures are out of context, but what the hey.