tishia_reevesThe Globe has a great article about the increasingly non-traditional four-year model of higher education that most Ephs are used to. Wick Sloane ’76 and his student Tishia Reeves are featured:

Tishia Reeves is mainstream. When she graduated from Boston English High School in 1999, she had college options. But she wasn’t sure what she wanted to study and wasn’t ready to take on a lot of debt. So she got a job as a medical receptionist. A decade later, she had advanced to a referrals coordinator position at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, helping patients and providers navigate the maze of healthcare paperwork. But recognizing the limits to her career growth without a college degree, she enrolled at Bunker Hill Community College in January.

These days, Reeves is nothing but serious about college and won’t be satisfied until she’s earned not just a bachelor’s degree but also a master’s. Instead of easing into her college experience, she took a full raft of five courses this semester, which forced her to drop from 40 hours a week at her job to 36, at a cost of about $100 a week in reduced salary. She doesn’t receive any financial aid and doesn’t need to check any notes to tell you exactly how much she spent on tuition and fees ($1,740) and books ($550.56) this spring, and how much she’s already ponied up to take five more courses this summer ($1,892).

Like a returning GI from the front lines, she knows how much more mature and mentally prepared she is for college now that she’s 27. Still, what’s ahead of her is daunting. And she admits to feeling despair when she heard about state budget cuts that might lead to fee hikes. Those could derail her college journey before it’s had time to build momentum.

“Tishia, you picked the wrong time to go back to school,” her father told her.

“Daddy, there is never a wrong time to go back to school,” she shot back, suppressing fears telling her that he just might be right.

Her 56-year-old college writing instructor, Wick Sloane, urged her and her classmates to do more than idly complain. Sloane owns the definition of an elite educational pedigree — Phillips Exeter Academy, Williams College for undergrad, Yale for his MBA. He went on to serve as chief financial officer for the University of Hawaii system. But for the last couple of years, he’s found his niche: teaching entry-level writing classes at Bunker Hill while advocating for colleges outside the elite club that handed him diplomas.

“The noise is about so few places,” he says, “and those places aren’t trying to be leaders. They’re the ones who’ve created the vision that you have to pay 50 grand a year to get a good education. But for these community college students, a hike of 10 or 15 bucks a credit could change the course of their lives.”

At Sloane’s suggestion, Reeves crafted a letter on behalf of the class and sent it off to the state commissioner of higher ed, Richard Freeland. “Many of our classmates are single mothers, ESL students, and Armed Forces veterans,” she wrote. “We are working adults with full-time jobs and responsibilities with all the trimmings. The graduation rate here is well below the national average for exactly these reasons. The state must find ways to improve our opportunities, not threaten our resources with budget cuts.” Then she asked the commissioner to come speak to her class, noting that it meets at 7 a.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays in “room D119. You have to go through the computer lab D105. I can meet you inside the main lobby, just behind the revolving doors.”

Freeland replied, sending his senior deputy commissioner, Clantha McCurdy. So there she was, at 7 a.m. on a Wednesday in mid-April, sitting in a basement room with cream-colored concrete walls, listening intently to Reeves and 15 of her classmates. McCurdy said she sympathized with their predicament even if she had no easy answers.

Reeves asked her straight out: “A lot of students are cutting back on credits because of the economy. Will the higher-ed office take a look at doing more for students taking longer than four years to earn their degree?”

McCurdy said resources were strained, but she allowed: “Maybe it’s time to put more money into programs for part-time students.”

Later, when McCurdy made a pitch for the state’s joint admissions program, designed to allow students to move easily from a community college to a four-year state school and to receive tuition discounts, one of Reeves’s classmates cited problems with the program. Those tuition discounts disappear after two years. Given complications involving credit transfers and major requirements, she told McCurdy, it would be impossible for her to finish her degree within that time frame.

Still, Reeves and her classmates emerged from the meeting a bit more hopeful. At least someone with influence was making an effort to understand their reality.

The Four-Year College Myth [Boston Globe]

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