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in its counselor, Priscilla Gonzales Culver, whom everyone Continued from A1 called "Miss G." Angelica, a daughter of a Angelica was the product s truggling M e x ican i m m i - of a large Mexican-American grant, was headed to Emory family, which she sought both University. Bianca enrolled in to honor and surpass. Her community college, and Me- mother, Ana Gonzales, had lissa left for Texas State Uni- crossed the border illegally as versity, President Lyndon B. a child, gained citizenship and Johnson's alma mater. settled the clan in Galveston, "It felt like we were taking where she ruled by force of off, from one life to another," will. She once grounded AnMelissa said. "It felt like, 'Here gelica for a month for coming we got'" home a minute late. With hints of both respect and fear, AnObstaclesto upwardmobility gelica never called her "Mom" Four years later, their story — only "Mrs. Lady." seems less like a tribute to upMelissa also wanted to get ward mobility than a study of off the island — and more imobstacles in an age of soaring mediately, out of her house. economic inequality. None has "When I was about 7, my mom a four-year degree. Only one is began dating an d h a nging still studying full time, and two around a bunch of drunks," she have crushing debts. Angelica, wrote on the Upward Bound who left Emory owing more application. For her mother, than $60,000, is a clerk in a addiction to painkillers and Galveston furniture store. severe depression followed. Each showed the ability to Her grandparents offered her do college work, even excel at one refuge,and school offered it. But the need to earn money another. "I like to learn — I'm weird," brought one set of strains, campus alienation brought others, she said. and ties to boyfriends not in By eighth grade, Melissawas school added complications. at the top of her class and samWith little guidance from fam- pling a course at a private high ily or school officials, college school. She yearned to apply became aleap that they braved there but swore the opposite to without a safety net. her mother and grandparents. The story of their lost footing Protecting families from their is also the story of something own ambition is a skill many larger — the growing role of poor students learn. "I knew education in preserving class we didn't have the money," Medivisions. Poor students have lissa said. "I felt like I had no long trailed affluent peers in right to ask." school performance, but from New to Upward Bound, Megrade-school tests to college lissa noticed that one student completion, the gaps are grow- always ate alone and crowded ing. With school success and in beside her. "She forced her earning prospects ever more friendship on me," Angelica entwined, the consequences said. carry far:Education, a force Bianca joined the following meant toerode class barriers, year with a cheerfulness that appears to be fortifying them. disguised any trace of family "Everyone wants to think tragedy. As the eldest of four of education as an equalizer siblings, she had spent the — the place where upward years sinceher father's death mobility gets started," said as abackup mother. To Bianca, Greg Duncan, an economist family meant everything. at the University of California, Senior year raced by, with Irvine. "But on virtually every Miss G doing her best to steer measure we have, the gaps be- frightened and distracted stutween high- and low-income dents though the college seleckids are widening. It's very tion process. Despite all the disheartening." campus visits, choices were The growing role of class in made without the intense suacademic success has taken pervision that many affluent experts by surprise since it fol- students enjoy. Bianca, anlows decades of equal opportu- chored to the island by family nity efforts and counters racial and an older boyfriend, chose trends, where differences have community college. Melissa narrowed.Itadds to fears over picked Texas State in San Marrecent evidence suggesting cos because "the application that low-income Americans was easiest." have lower chances of upward Angelica had thought of litmobility than counterparts in tle beyond Northwestern and Canada and Western Europe. was crestfallen when she was Thirtyyears ago, there was a rejected. She had sent a last31 percentage point difference minute application to a school between the share of prosper- in Atlanta that had emailed ous and poor Americans who her. Neither she nor Miss G earned bachelor's degrees, ac- knew much about it. Only after cording to Martha Bailey and getting in did she discover that Susan Dynarski of the Univer- she had achieved something sity of Michigan. Now the gap special. is 45 points. Emory cost nearly $50,000 W hile b ot h g r o ups i m - that year, but it was one of a proved their odds of finishing small tier of top schools that college, the affluent improved promised to meet the finanmuch more, widening their siz- cial needs of any student good able lead. enough to be admitted. It had Likelyreasons include soar- even starteda program to reing incomes at the top and lieve the neediest students of changes in family structure, high debt burdens. "No one which have left fewer low-in- should have to give up their come students with the finan- goals and dreams because ficial and emotional support of nancial challenges stand in the two-parent homes. Neighbor- way," its website says. hoods have grown more segrePlus, an unseen campus a gated by class, leaving lower- thousand miles away had an income students increasingly innate appeal. "How many concentrated in l o w er-qual- times do you get the chance to ity schools.And even after ac- completely reinvent yourself'?" counting for financial aid, the Angelica said. costs of attending a public university have risen 60 percent Rich-poor gap grows in the past two decades. Many If Melissa and Angelica felt low-income students, feeling that heading off to a university the need to help out at home, set them apart from other loware deterred by the thought of income students, they were years of lost wages and piles of right — it did. Less than 30 perdebt. cent of students in the bottom In placing their hopes in ed- quarter of incomes even enucation, the Galveston teenag- roll in a four-year schooL And ers followed a tradition as old among that group, less than as the country itself. But if only half graduate. the prosperous become eduIncome has always shaped cated — and only the educated academic success, but its improsper — th e schoolhouse portance is g r owing. Rearrisks becoming just another don, the Stanford sociologist, place where the fortunate pre- examined a d ozen r eading serve their edge. and math tests dating back 25 "It's becoming increasingly years and found that the gap in unlikely that a l o w -income scores of high- and low-income student, no matter how intrin- students has grown by 40 persically bright, moves up the cent, even as the difference socioeconomic ladder," said between blacks and whites has Sean Reardon, a sociologist at narrowed. Stanford. "What we're talking While race once predicted about is a threat to the Ameri- scores more than class,the can dream." opposite now holds. By eighth grade, white students sur-

High school

pass blacks by an average of

No one picturedthem even as friends, much less triplets. Angelica hid behind dark eyeliner, Melissa's moods turned on the drama at home, and Bianca, in the class behind, seemed even younger than she was. What they had in common was a college-prep program for low-income teenagers, Upward Bound, and trust

three grade levels, while upper-income studentsare four grades ahead of low-income counterparts. "The racial gaps are quite big, but the income gaps are bigger," Reardon said. One explanation is simply that the rich have gotten richer. A generation ago, families at the 90th percentile had five

Galveston, Texas, natives Melissa O'Neal, from left, Bianca Gonzalez and Angelica Gonzales took part in a college-prep

program for low-income students, but found that school wasn't a ticket to upward mobility. Michael Stravato New York Times News Service

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 — col-

lege graduates have greatly widened their earnings leadaffluent families have invested more in it. They have tripled the amount by w h ich they outspend low-income families on enrichment activities like sports, music lessons and summer camps, according to Duncan and Richard Murnane of Harvard.

In addition, upper-income parents, especially f a thers, have increasedtheir child-rearing time, while the presence of fathers in low-income homes has declined. Miss G said there is a reason the triplets relied so heavily on boyfriends: "Their fathersweren't there." Annette Lareau, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that the affluent also enjoy an advocacy

edge: parents are quicker to intervene when their children need help, while low-income families often feel intimidated and defer to school officials, a problem that would trail Melissa and Angelica through

college. "Middle-class students get the sense the institution will respond to them," Lareau said. "Working-class and poor students don't experience that. It makes them more vulnerable." M atthew Chingos of t h e B rookings I n stitution h a s found that l ow-income students finish college less often than better-off peers, even when they outscore them on skills tests. Only 26 percent of eighth-graders with belowaverage incomes but aboveaverage scores go on to earn bachelor's degrees, compared with 30 percent of students with subpar performances but more money. "These are students who have already overcome significant obstacles to s c ore above average on this test," Chingos said. "To see how few earn college degrees is really disturbing."

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Bulletin Daily Paper 12-23-12  

The Bulletin Daily print edition for Sunday December 23, 2012

Bulletin Daily Paper 12-23-12  

The Bulletin Daily print edition for Sunday December 23, 2012