The Least for These Who Want It Most

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Alcorn State University, Santa Fe College, and West Kentucky Community and Technical College are working-class colleges. Most of their students have lower incomes, and many are trying to become the first member of their family to graduate from college.

Spending time in any of these locations will likely make you feel inspired. Students have often endured difficulties – like a dysfunctional high school, an abusive relationship, or military service during the war – and figured out how to move on.

You may also notice something else: the colleges trying to train these students are doing so on a tight budget.

West Kentucky spends $ 7,200 per student on education annually – money needed to pay salaries for professors and support staff, as well as laboratories and other educational resources. Alcorn State (in Mississippi) and Santa Fe (in Florida) each spend less than $ 14,000. So does the Borough of Manhattan Community College in New York.

Want to guess how much money Ivy League colleges spend on education per student each year? It averages around $ 100,000, according to a report by Third Way. Elite public universities often spend more than $ 30,000.

These funding gaps exacerbate both economic and racial inequality. “The dollars don’t go to the people who really need them,” Jeff Strohl of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University told me. Without adequate resources, working-class colleges tend to have low graduation rates. Many of their students are struggling to find well-paying jobs and repay their college loans.

As inspiring as the students in a place like Alcorn State may be, they cannot overcome every obstacle that is put in their path.

This week, philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, who helped shape Amazon over the years she was married to Jeff Bezos, announced that she had given away more than $ 4 billion, mostly to organizations focused on economic hardship . “This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans who have already struggled,” wrote Scott on Medium.

Scott’s 384 recipients included 36 colleges, all with large numbers of lower-income students. The four colleges I mentioned above are on the list. In some cases, the gifts are the largest that colleges have received.

“I was stunned,” said Ruth Simmons, president of Prairie View A&M, a historically black university in Texas, to my colleague Anemona Hartocollis. When Simmons heard on a phone call that the gift would be $ 50 million, she wasn’t sure she had heard correctly. The caller had to make it clear: “Five-zero”.

College professionals praise Scott for giving money to the universities that need it most, not the universities that are already most in need. Strohl called her selection of recipients “brilliant”.

But the experts add one more point: Scott’s gifts are nowhere near big enough to fill the annual funding gaps created by the government. Part of the reason your donations will make a difference is because the problem they are trying to address is so serious. The country’s higher education system often hinders upward mobility.

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Last month, Hulu released one of the first major Christmas movies about a same-sex couple, “Happiest Season.” The film broke records on the platform and received mostly positive reviews from critics. It also opened a long-standing debate about LGBTQ representation: Why is Hollywood so often about weird stories?

In “Happiest Season” Abby (played by Kristen Stewart) goes to her friend Harper (played by Mackenzie Davis) for Christmas. Harper’s family doesn’t know she’s gay, and the movie is about hiding that.

“There are ways to make the coming-out experience modern,” wrote Michael Cuby in the online magazine Them. “Throw Kristen Stewart in a closet with a Roomba for someone to find and wink, ‘Abby, what are you doing in the closet? ‘is certainly not one. ”

At the same time, there is great pressure on such films as there are few queer mainstream films available. “I think no matter what it did, people would be disappointed that it didn’t do anything else,” said Lena Wilson, who has written for The Times on film and LGBTQ topics.

But the situation can slowly change. “Happiest Season” is one of at least six vacation films with gay or lesbian leading roles this year. Sarah Kate Ellis, General Manager of GLAAD, said: “When you start to see the crowd go up, you can have different storylines that show the different aspects and agency of the LGBTQ community.”

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