By Contributor on January 23, 2014

By Juleyka Lantigua-Williams

On Jan. 16, the White House held a summit on college access. As a community college professor working with low-income students every day, I have a few ground-level suggestions for President Obama and his team.

First, talk to actual students.

At the forum, which touted attendance by more than 100 "college and university presidents and leaders from nonprofits, foundations, state governments and the private sector," there were few actual students present. Seems to me like the people being talked about should be well represented in the room.

Second, use technology like you mean it.

Though the by-invitation-only summit was live-streamed from the White House, there was no way for the general public to participate. If a national, well-publicized YouTube town meeting is good enough for a presidential campaign, it's good enough for something as important as figuring out how to increase our appallingly low college success rate.

Third, find more people whose stories mirror Michelle Obama's. She climbed out of Chicago's South Side to the Ivy League and a career in law. The White House needs to hear from countless people like her and like me -- who crawled out of the South Bronx to an elite education and a career as a writer and professor -- and broadcast those stories to the millions of low-income children who have no idea it's possible to live a life different from the one they're stuck in.

Fourth, focus less on the individual student and more on her entire family. The White House should encourage colleges to treat recruiting more like scouting. The admissions rep should develop relationships with prospective students and their families over several years, not just during a recruitment day in the high school gym.

Low-income students of color are under tremendous pressure to contribute to the family's livelihood, and to many it makes no sense to go to college, where they may end up in debt. That is a huge cultural hurdle that must be overcome slowly by establishing a comfort level with parents, siblings and grandparents. In the case of Latinas, this is especially critical.

Lastly, tuition should be free for low-income students. Right now, a public four-year education costs about $18,000 on average; a private one costs about $41,000, according to the College Board. If the federal poverty line is $23,550 for a family of four, no promising student whose family falls under that income should have to pay for college.

It's time to get real, creating solutions that will change the course of millions of lives, and our country along the way.

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams writes about contemporary issues and teaches writing at Naugatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury, Conn. She can be reached pmj@progressive.org.

Copyright Juleyka Lantigua-Williams.

Photo: "Female college graduate," via Shutterstock.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
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Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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