Low-income students need aid, support

Many community college students juggle classes and jobs while struggling to pay the rent and the babysitter, buy textbooks and put gas in the car. On some campuses, there’s help for low-income students, writes Sara Goldrick-Rab, an associate professor of education and sociology at the University of Wisconsin, in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

In 1998, “Joanne” dropped out of the Borough of Manhattan Community College because she couldn’t afford the subway fare. When she came back to BMCC in 2011, after losing her job, it was very different. Single Stop USA had set up benefits counseling on campus.

She walked in a Pell Grant recipient, and walked out equipped with food stamps, transportation vouchers, and child-care benefits.

. . . Right in the middle of campus, between her classes, she had a 15-minute appointment with an electronic evaluation process facilitated by a knowledgeable counselor who equipped her with the money and support it seems she needed to make a degree possible. This spring, she will complete her associate degree.

Single Stop has offices at 17 community colleges around the country. In the last year, the nonprofit helped 20,000 students collect $38-million in benefits. For every $1 the program costs, it brings $14 in benefits students wouldn’t have otherwise had.

Single Stop hasn’t proven — yet — that its services boost completion rates, writes Goldrick-Rab. But it’s shown the community college can be “a point of connection as well as education.”

Adjunct professors use food stamps, aid

Poorly paid adjuncts are using food stamps, Medicaid and welfare to pay the bills, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

For example, Melissa Bruninga-Matteau, who earned a Ph.D. in medieval history, teaches two humanities courses at Yavapai College, an Arizona community college. Her take-home pay is $900 a month with no benefits. She pays $750 a month in rent and $40 a week in gas to commute to campus. A single mother, she relies on food stamps and Medicaid.

She’s not alone.

Some are struggling to pay back student loans and cover basic living expenses as they submit scores of applications for a limited pool of full-time academic positions. Others are trying to raise families or pay for their children’s college expenses on the low and fluctuating pay they receive as professors off the tenure track, a group that now makes up 70 percent of faculties. Many bounce on and off unemployment or welfare during semester breaks. And some adjuncts have found themselves trying to make ends meet by waiting tables or bagging groceries alongside their students.

While graduate-degree holders are much less likely to use public aid than less-educated Americans, the percentage “who receive food stamps or some other aid more than doubled between 2007 and 2010,” the Chronicle reports. Adjuncts, who typically work part-time with no job security or benefits, are especially vulnerable.

Some adjuncts make less money than custodians and campus support staff who may not have college degrees. An adjunct’s salary can range from $600 to $10,000 per course, according to the Adjunct Project, a crowdsourced database about adjuncts’ salaries and working conditions. The national average earnings of adjunct instructors are just under $2,500 per course, according to the American Association of University Professors.

Years ago, I told the chancellor of the local community college district that my sister was teaching remedial English as a part-time adjunct at two community colleges. “Closest thing to slave labor we’ve got in this country!” he said.

Underpaid instructors can bypass colleges and sell their courses direct to online students through services such as Udemy, writes Ed Sector’s Kevin Carey.

Groceries or graduation?

By helping low-income students access public aid — food stamps, health insurance, housing and energy vouchers, child-care subsidies and the like — community colleges hope to improve retention and graduation. Single Stop, a national nonprofit, has partnered with colleges to set up offices on campus. Students also can use legal and financial counseling and free tax-preparation services.

Julio Cohen came with his father to the Single Stop office at Miami Dade College. Laid off as a construction surveyor—the boss kept the guys with degrees—he had decided to study architectural design. But he was thinking of giving up on college to help his father, who was struggling to care for a disabled wife.

Maria Rubios unemployment ran out. The foreclosure papers came in the mail. She couldnt afford medications for bipolar disorder, so she cut each pill in half. She decided to drop out of Miami Dades healthcare administration program. “You’re on the deans list,” a financial aid counselor said. “Wash your face, get some coffee, and be back here in half an hour. You need Single Stop.”

About to “purge” a student from the class roll, a professor first called Single Stop. Could someone call the students cell phone to ask why she had stopped attending?

You can read the full story on U.S. News.