The Challenge of Being Poor at America’s Richest Colleges

I recently read an article on Forbes that really pulled on my heart strings. It was about society’s and policy’s continual focus on making elite higher education more accessible to low income students, but the gap that exists between receiving an acceptance letter and the next 4 years on campus. Overall, the challenge for low-income students does not end with admittance to a prestigious university, and it can be argued that unfortunately it seems really only begin at that point.

When we think of collegiate rights of passage, typically the first things that come to mind involve dining hall meals, all nighters and living in a dorm. However, for students who are financially privileged, collegiate rights of passage often also include spring break excursions to exotic locations, buying the $250 textbook, and having the ability to purchase an expensive and polished looking suit for a last minute job interview or career fair. To illustrate the economic disparities between students at prestigious institutions, as the Forbes article points out “At Harvard, 45.6% of undergraduates come from families with incomes above $200,000 — in other words, incomes in the top 3.8% of all American households.”

Overall, I find this data to be troubling, as our elite institutions are not nearly as diverse as we would like to think. I also cannot help but wonder of the role that technology can play in this issue – for both leveling the playing field and resources available for students of less privileged socioeconomic backgrounds, and exacerbating the differences the experiences they have.

Is there such a thing as technological inequality on our college campuses?

Technological inequality is having the refurbished tablet PC or even being without a laptop, when your classmates are all sporting trendy MacBook Pros, retailing at over $1,000. Technological inequality is not being able to check your email throughout the day on the smartphone that you cannot afford, and missing that message about last minute extended office hours. Technological inequality is missing precious moments of valuable study time, because you do not have the ability to download the latest flashcard mobile app to study your Spanish vocab on the go.

I just wanted to create this post to raise awareness about the role that technology can play in perpetuating inequality on campus. I am aware that some schools have laptop loan programs, but the real problem is more systemic and deeper than that. Technology is nearly synonymous with innovation, and those of us in higher education, whether it is administration, student life, teaching, or tech, can use that innovative spark to find a solution for these issues.


Crowdfunding Higher Education with Nakoo

Crowdfunding is arguably one of the most important technological developments we have seen this decade. For some background information on crowdfunding for those who are maybe less familiar with it, check out this informational video:

While crowdfunding has typically focused on small business and entrepreneurial developments, it actually has many creative uses and funding higher eduction is one of them! I’m very inspired by the efforts of Nazia Mintz-Habib, and her organization Nakoo, which is beginning to spin the wheels in motion for revolutionizing the way we fund education. Nakoo is a Kiva meets Kickstarter effort. Kiva is a non-profit organization which allows people to loan money to aspiring business starters and entrepreneurs in underdeveloped or impoverished countries, and Kickstarter is the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects. However, unlike Kiva, the money donated through Nakoo is not a loan – Nakoo is an online platform which brings students in need of tuition support together with contributors or companies who can fund them. In case you were wondering, Nakoo also means “tallest tree” in the Mayan language.

Prospective students can put together a profile on Nakoo’s website, including information such as the school they attend, the amount of funding they need, and any other relevant personal information. So far, Nakoo has only launched 1 month ago, and is featuring 4 students on its Alpha version while looking for feedback from users.

I’m very excited to follow the growth and development of Nakoo, and think crowdfunding is a very creative and tech-savy way for raising the needed funds to attend college. However, part of me also fears that resources such as Nakoo and their success could take away from the bigger picture and the larger conversation that needs to be had, such as the fact that higher education is quickly becoming more of a necessity, but also less and less affordable for many. I hope that this technological outsourcing to crowdfunding platforms does not take away from the urgency of creating better institutional support and institutional funding or an overhaul of the federal financial aid system that has increasingly become compromised of high interest loans.

While we can only wait and see what the future may hold for making higher education more accessible and affordable, Nakoo is definitely an organization to keep on your radar!