Truthout: Academia Under the Influence

By Eleanor J. Bader

chatterjee_imperial coverFor the past 10 years, I've taught English at a large, public community college in Brooklyn, New York. Most of my students are the first in their families to attend a university - and while some are disaffected, the majority are engaged and eager, hopeful that the promise of a higher education will open doors and provide them with a stable future. They're also largely immigrants, and it is not uncommon for 28 students from 20 countries to find themselves sitting side-by-side in a classroom, arguing and debating about the meaning of a particular text.

But if it sounds idyllic, don't worry - it's not. As tuition increases, students are often forced to take leaves of absence, causing a program that might be completed in two years to stretch into five or six. Not surprisingly, some students get discouraged and vanish. Others attempt to juggle full-time work with evening or weekend classes, only to eventually learn that an associate's degree is far less useful than they had initially imagined. Even more troubling, as their exhaustion mounts, few are able to muster the energy to protest soaring fees or inadequate financial aid packages. And my school is not unique.

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