My Comic Book Syllabus got Mentioned in a BookCreator Blog

So I shared my Bitmoji laden syllabus on twitter and I was asked last week if they could refer to it in a Book Creator Blog.. this is fun..

First let’s read how they included it.

Building classroom community and culture with Book Creator

So here is my take on my syllabus..

I expect students to use Book Creator throughout the semester. Currently they are using StoryCubes to create a story with Book Creator.

I started this project, because I saw talk of Comic Book syllabi being using in K12 on Twitter and I thought, oh I could do that. I love Bitmoji and being able to laugh at myself a little.  Also, BookCreator has just come out with the Beta Version of their Chrome Editor version of Book Creator and one criticism, I get from my alumni is that I don’t do enough Chromebook integration so I wanted to try it out.

here is my syllabus!

I found the online system really easy to use the only thing that was not as “good” as the iPad app was the speed at which images were added.. but remember you are uploading to the “cloud” . I had one piece of functionality that I lost, I could not do a pdf of the book – so i downloaded an epub and then put it on my iPad and one page did not transfer. but overall it was good..

it was fun to do, and it made me feel like I could be more personal. However, my students did not love it..  I made the regular syllabus to copy and paste to the book. and some students really did not like the comic book syllabus and kind of rejected it.  We need to work on being more flexible for sure. All of the same information was there.

Back to what Book Creator wrote – did it help me with classroom culture?  Absolutely..  I think it started day one by showing that I was using the tools and it also helped me to better talk about Chromebook integration with students. I also embarked on it because of some twitter talk about referring students to services related to the book Paying the Price.  No matter what you do, as a comic or not..  its great to let students know you are there for them and make yourself a person to them.

I would highly recommend it to faculty, make yourself a person and make yourself accessible to students.   In the future, I will add a video welcome message, maybe made with clips! (for captioning).

 

Tool, either iPad or the Chrome version at http://app.bookcreator.com  is great tool to use to make it happen. It produces an epub that is readable on all devices – android, Mac, IOS, or windows.

Wayfinding Academy – Why it has me excited..

So maybe its a midlife crisis, maybe its being an associate professor who at 42 is still paying her student loans, maybe it is the 21st Century masters and what I have been reading… . but I am worried about higher education and especially about some of our highest achieving students who get great grades but don’t really have a plan for what they want to do in life.

I am worried that there are lots of students who don’t know what they want to do and are going into extreme debt to leave college with a degree and still without a direction.

One Sunday morning as I drank my coffee to come to life I saw a story on CBS this morning  about Oregon Public House and one of the charities it was funding Wayfinding Academy.  A not for profit college that focuses on helping students find their way, their goal and mission and life before amazing a ton of credits and a ton of debt.

Here is the original story that Inspired me to get involved:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/a-nonprofit-pub-thats-good-for-what-ales-you/

I am pretty questioning about charities, and I am pretty sure to check them out myself – so in April I went to Wayfinding weekend – I will share more of my experiences in future posts –

But here are some of the questions I am asking:
How can we help more students be successful in college?

How can we help them explore who they are and how they can affect the world without them going bankrupt in student loans?

How can we help students identify their goals so that college catapults them to success rather than lets them wait out 4 years until they start asking those questions?

I have decided to support Wayfinding Academy though my charitable giving and you can get involved to.   We are starting a Crowdsourcing campaign after Memorial Day to provide students with a great start to college.   Join me and make me do something silly for something I believe in.   So you can support me in their mission:  https://www.razoo.com/story/Rgjd5f

Paying the Price – What is the role of Professors in College Costs

I was a bad Book club member ..(I should have looked at my schedule more..) but I wanted to share some ideas about the Book Paying the Price by Sara Goldrick Rab (I also saw her speak on campus).

Higher Education has me really worried.. I feel as though much of the angst that is upheaving our politics and communities is because we are making college the difference between the Have’s and the Have Not’s.

When I went to college – I remember it was a big deal that they raised our tuition to $52 a credit hour at Northwest Missouri State University – (from like 45 the year before) Here it is today.. (we did not have the fees like we do today)

If you look at this link http://www.collegesimply.com/colleges/missouri/northwest-missouri-state-university/price/ (which has face validity)

So in 1992 – it was 1,680 and now it is  6,770 (tuition and fees)

In all honesty, in 1992, my father (who made too much for me to qualify for financial aid) gave me a 20K promise for college – told me that if I had money left – It was mine.. I made it on that money, while being an RA and working as a custodian, tutor, house sitter, upward bound math and science assistant and earning scholarships until my student teaching semester (when I got pneumonia and it all fell apart)  I took out a loan from him for my final semester and paid it back.

I am not telling this story to say that I was privileged (but I know that I was) but to put in real perspective. Now the estimate for Northwest Missouri State University is basically 16K a year (on the books – actually cost is likely higher -see the book) .  I could have easily blown my whole funding a year now and it was generous support (I mean parents don’t have to pay for college and that was a quite a nice car in 1992)

So what does this mean for our students – college is out of reach for many of our students – the cost is prohibitive and their aid does not reach their need.

From the same Website:  Average cost is 15, 651 with age average of 7,769 – DOES NOT Compute.

Sara Goldrick Rab’s book goes into more individual stories but here are my first thoughts (for now)

  1. Student aid does not make it affordable for students to attend college – especially if they have need.
  2. Middle class students – especially those whose parents claim them but don’t support are totally skewered.
  3. There are hungry students on our campus (every campus) – and if we have rate of 22% free lunch in Oklahoma – once they graduate high school – where do all those kids go.. (hint: some go to college)
  4. A lot of retention – is focused on first year students – but I do think that we should focus on later year students more (they run out of money and beginning scholarships) and also graduate students – it is no longer the fun poor I remember.. (okay there is really no fun poor) 
  5. Financial stresses are one of the biggest stresses on students and keep them from finishing. If they quit before finishing they have the debt but no degree and are even more at a disadvantage.

So from these – here are my takeaways and action steps for professors.. 

  1. As professors we need to read books like this one, and others and we need to be aware of the financial issues facing our students.  We need to talk to them and we have a responsibility to understand what college costs for them.
  2.  Advocate for students – As OU is facing another budget cut after a 16% State cut last year, it’s  tough – lots of things getting cut -but honestly we are advocates for our students and we need to better understand their experience.   And we need to help them find resources (like the new OU foodbank)
    1. As advocates here are some things we can do:
      • listen – hear them – take real time to listen to their stories and their struggles.
      • Connect with resources – there are services through the provost office and the retention team to help students be successful.
      • Encourage students to apply for scholarships and assist our development people in raising money for scholarships.  Write letters of recommendation with a smile! ?
      • Consider students when writing grants and applying for funding. Could we create more student jobs both Grad and Undergrad – The Office of Undergraduate research and CRPDE could offer some ideas.
      • Think about our course materials in light of the bigger picture.  Can we use cheaper or Open Educational Resources to reduce student costs (most students don’t buy the expensive books anyway)  The OU Libraries will help.  http://guides.ou.edu/oer
      • Participate in your campus conversations about fees and try to use fees to greater benefit of the students if they exist.  (I have changed a class from Blended to weekend to reduce fees for students – each online class has a $40 per credit hour fee, and $20 for blended). If you are offering in these formats – ask yourself the questions – why?  Key skills? Online learning experience? Student needs? or my Convenience?

Those are my initial thoughts.. (I have more) but I challenge other faculty to advocate for our students.

Consider reading Paying the Price by Sara Goldrick Rab or College Unbound by Jeff Selingo they are good places to start.

I was reminded this week about first generation students.. (those students whose parents did not go to college). They often ask questions – but not the right ones.  I remember dinner conversation from my Dad about his stories about college – so I was at a distinct advantage to know what to ask.   As professors, we can help this situation by being informed and involved, helping our students to ask the right questions, and advocating for them when we can.  

 

 

Looking Closer at Oklahoma and National Pell Grant Data

For the past five weeks, I’ve been leading a faculty reading group with Mark Morvant on Paying the Price by Sara Goldrick-Rab. This has been a great experience given the fact that I didn’t feel I would have time to be involved in Bryan Alexander’s online group like I was for We Make the Road By Walking.

I had three main goals for being involved with the reading group:

1. I’ve been wanting to read the book myself.

Sara Goldrick-Rab’s keynote at the OpenEd Conference in Richmond, VA was a refreshing surprise for me. I wasn’t aware of any of her work prior to hearing her, but she is such a captivating speaker. I like to think of OpenEd as a group of education technologists and librarians who are interested in student equity and social justice. For this particular group, Sara’s talk felt like going to church in the sense that you have an overwhelming feeling of personal guilt as she unpacks both the statistics and the stories and how much higher education is failing our low income student population. As I said in November:

Sara was frankly a gut punch. I left her talk feeling helpless. And then I started to look around only to realize that the very voices that I would hope we could see amplified through open education simply aren’t represented in our conversations.

This group gave me an excuse to dig deeper into Sara’s work.

2. I wanted to be involved in collectively building empathy towards the student experience.

The majority of those who have been an instructor have been involved with a student story of misfortune. For me, these tend to be very individualized experiences which is probably because I want to respect the privacy of our students or because, from the student’s perspective, their issues are stigmatized. The point is that there isn’t a lot of opportunities for faculty to come together and discuss some of the experiences they’ve witnessed through their students or even talk about their own personal struggles as a student.

I began the reading group by introducing myself and my own student story. I entered college from a single income family. I worked part-time the entirety of my undergraduate career. Most of the time I was working two jobs although one semester I worked three (and paid for it heavily–it was my worst semester grades-wise and I had to drop one of my classes mid semester). The cost of living in the residence halls forced me to look elsewhere in Norman after my first semester. We managed to pay for the first year with no loans due to some local one-year scholarships I had earned. But those ran out and I had to make the decision to take out both federal loans and parent plus loans the next three years. Of course, I say all of this knowing I was in a much better position than other students. My parents still assisted with rent and my cell phone while I covered the rest of my living expenses. While I feel this is a very normal story, it was something I had yet to share in my professional life.

3. I wanted to use this as an opportunity for faculty and administration to have a collective conversation.

The truth is that OU really doing some excellent work and my guess is that faculty haven’t been painted a full picture of the resources that students have access to. For instance, through one of these conversations, I learned that there is something called a Work Assistance Tuition Waiver Program at OU. Students qualify for the scholarship if they are working 25+ hours a week. Even if there hours get cut to 10 hours a week, they can maintain their scholarship by completing 15 hours of school credit (summer courses and be banked towards this) and keep a 2.0 GPA.

For the reading group, we’ve had visitors for Financial Aid, the Provost’s Office, and Administration and Finance come talk about various efforts taking place on campus. As someone who strattles the line between the faculty and the administration, this reading group was a great opportunity to continue to build that bridge.

Looking at the Data

The last goal has been my favorite part of it. I came to know through the reading group how little I knew about the different groups of students we had on campus. Before, I couldn’t even tell you what a Pell Grant was or its monetary value. Now I feel much more equipped to speak towards the issues at hand and better support our students. It’s also been great to understand what efforts are happening for student success. I was given these figures on Pell Grant recipient retention:

Student Cohort Head Count ACT/SAT After One Year
2011 968 24.8 76.40%
2012 1004 24.7 75.80%
2013 779 25.5 79.10%
2014 757 25.6 79.90%
2015 727 25.8 87.30%

You’ll notice the big jump from 2014 and 2015. What will be really interesting to follow is to see if that jump maintains towards graduation.

Getting this data though led me on search for some bigger data set. I was curious to look at Pell Grant data a little bit more in the state of Oklahoma and beyond and landed on a 2015 Report called The Pell Partnership: Ensuring a Shared Responsibility for Low-Income Student Success. I created this interactive graph that helps you visualize some of the data specific to Oklahoma.

You can download the data set for this visualization or get the full data set rom the report to make sense of it however you wish.

Once I started playing with that data, I got even more curious about where Oklahoma is lands in the grand scheme of $31.5 billion spent on Pell Grants by the federal government. I came up with a visualization, colored for public vs private, that looks like this (sorry if your on a smartphone, it’s not very mobile friendly and you’re going to have to scroll a lot):

Screen Shot 2017-02-27 at 3.13.16 PM.png

I ended up adding a handful of filters so you can look at the data from a multitude of angles. Beyond looking at specific states, you can look at number of undergrads, grad rates, specific institutions, etc (again–sorry for mobile users. This one is virtually useless unless you are on a desktop).

View this visualization in a new tab

I’ve got to be honest and say that I’ve spent more time building the visualization than I have playing with the data. So if you find anything particularly interesting to you, please let me know in the comments. I’m also happy to visualize the data in a different manner if you would like custom views.

The main reason for the leading group is that Derek Houston, a visiting professor, was able to get Sara to come to campus to speak. This is my second time already this year where I’ve had the opportunity to rewatch a keynote presentation from OpenEd. I can’t tell you how fortunate I feel to have those opportunities but also how valuable it is to watch anything twice. It’s like your favorite movies; the first view is awe and surprise while the second viewing allows you to catch the nuisances of what makes the work really special. I don’t quite have the words to describe the feeling quite yet, but there’s something swirling in my head about watching these talks both pre and post election and being reminded about the issues at stake. There’s something about being grounded in the type of work people like Gardner and Sara are doing. I think Gardner would firmly agree with the quote from Sara’s talk about OU (below)

I want to say thank you to Sara Goldrick-Rab for a number of things. First, you’ve been really inspiring to me as a scholar and an advocate and I so admire somebody who is  willing to play both of those roles in higher education. Second, thanks for jumpstarting a larger conversation around serving Pell Grant recipients at OU at both the faculty reading group level as well as the institution. And, last, thank you for inspiring me to look closer at my own local data, issues, and potential pathways forward.

Cutting Back, Eating Less, Paying The Price – Ch 5 Reflection

Cup of roasted, salted almonds.

There are three statistics that stood out to me while reading this chapter:

“Twenty-four percent of our students indicated that in the past month they did not have enough money to buy food, ate less then they felt they should, or cut the size of their meals because there was not enough money.” – Sara Goldrick-Rab (1)

and

“When asked if they ever wen without eating for an entire day because they lacked enough money for food, 6 percent of students said yes.” Sara Goldrick-Rab (2)

also

“the survey revealed that one in five students was hungry, and 13 percent were homeless.” – Sara Goldrick-Rab (3)

It is jarring to see how prevalent hunger is among college students. Thinking about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (which Sara brings up), how can we expect our students to engage in critical thinking when their physiological needs are not being met? I was pleased to read that there’s a growing number of food pantries aiming to address this issue, but the fact that some students must forego food and shelter to attend college is ridiculous.

Sara also unpacks the psychological aspect of these realities, describing a positive reinforcement cycle:

“Scarcity imposes psychic costs, reducing mental bandwidth and distorting decision making in ways that make their situations worse, not better.” – Sara Goldrick-Rab (4)

With significant student populations attending class under these conditions, I’ve been considering what the best approaches would be for instructors in the classroom. One idea I heard that seems viable is making fruit available to your students. I know this would have benefited me because I recall having packed class/lab schedules that periodically meant skipping lunch. So, access to fruit would have made a difference for me.

Finally, if you haven’t experienced SPENT yet, you need to attempt the challenge. It fits well with chapter 5 of Paying The Price.

Discussion Questions

  1. How can we expect our students to engage in critical thinking when their physiological needs are not being met? (Reflective)
  2. How can instructors help students who experience hunger in their courses?
  3. What resources, like Single Stop, food pantries, etc., are available on your campus?
  4. If you played SPENT, what was your experience like? How did it make you feel?

The featured image is provided CC0 by Juan José Valencia Antía via Unsplash.


  1. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, Loc 2619 (Kindle Edition).
  2. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, Loc 2621 (Kindle Edition).
  3. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, Loc 2644 (Kindle Edition).
  4. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, Loc 2794 (Kindle Edition).

Disproportionate Struggles, Paying The Price – Ch 4 Reflection

Stadium style seating. All empty chairs.

This has certainly been the hardest chapter to read thus far. Not only the struggles facing Chloe, Ian, Tyler, Nima, Norbert, and Sophie (CINNTS) but many of the statistics that Sara includes are heartbreaking:

low-income families hold student debt amounting to about 70 percent of their income, while wealthier families have student debt amounting to around 10 percent of income – Sara Goldrick-Rab (1)

and

A disproportionate fraction of our African American students 38% as compared to 11% of white students) had a negative expected family contribution, signaling that their families had a great deal of financial need….White families hold as much as twenty times the wealth of black families (2)….In other words, income translates into wealth differently for black and white families. – Sara Goldrick-Rab (3)

also

38% of people from low-income families will remain in the bottom 40 percent of the income distribution even if they earn a college degree. And that is an important “if,” given that only 11 percent of them are likely to complete degrees. – Sara Goldrick-Rab (4)

Notable Themes From Chapter 4

Culturally, Americans believe students should work during college.

Access to jobs and work study have dwindled significantly over the years while the cost of living has steadily risen.

There’s fear, anxiety, and shame around loans.

Different student populations are affected by increasing financial need disproportionately.

College may yield access to better jobs but for many it also requires working multiple part time jobs just to attend.

Federal financial aid shows its flaws since it “leads undergraduates to worry about the adverse side effects of their parents’ good fortunes” (5). For example, a parent receiving employment may decrease aid given to students, leaving them in a worse predicament.

Reflection

While reading the lengths CINNTS went through to attend college, I’m reminded how blessed I was for my opportunities. Even though I recall skipping a physical chemistry class for a painting gig that paid well and working around 30 hours a week one semester (the hardest of my undergraduate career), I didn’t have to sell a beloved horse or forgo my study abroad experience. I’m thankful. I’m really thankful that, for much of my academic career, I was able to focus on learning.

Also, chapter 10 can not come soon enough. Not because I want Paying the Price to end; instead I’m patiently awaiting the solutions that Sara will propose.

The featured image is provided CC0 by Paul Bergmeir via Unsplash.


  1. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, Loc 2017 (Kindle Edition).
  2. Taylor et al., “Wealth Gaps Rise to Record Highs between Whites, Blacks and Hispanics,” 1. (as cited in Paying the Price).
  3. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, Loc 1898 (Kindle Edition).
  4. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, Loc 2115 (Kindle Edition).
  5. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, Loc 2446 (Kindle Edition).

Paying the Price

In reading chapter three of Sara Goldrick-Rab’s Paying the Price, I was struck by the deep resentment that the Pell Grant garners. Like every other form of welfare promoting social mobility, the Pell Grant has been weaponized as a redistributive, unearned, golden ticket that allows people to skip to the front of the line while carelessly spending the hard-earned dollars of the working class. Obviously this is a straw man characterization, but I think it accurately echoes the core narrative identified by Arlie Hochschild in her study of Tea Party Republicans.

My habit has long been to dismiss such a characterization as the critique of mean-spirited, irredeemable people, but this is extremely counterproductive. I still don’t agree that we should do away with the Pell Grant or other forms of welfare, but I need to and can do a better job engaging in respectful conversation around this narrative. Until we can find common ground with those who feel left behind and cheated by the system, there can be little progress. As an educator, I need to be able to engage with people and convincingly argue for several fundamental points that I can no longer take for granted:

  1. That the highest quality public education is an inalienable birthright of every person
  2. That public education is an obligation of the government
  3. That government investment in education is economically productive. That is, for every dollar spent, more than a dollar is generated
  4. That a student has a right to maintain dignity while receiving welfare and shouldn’t be asked to pass drug tests or justify food expenses
  5. That teachers should be respected as important contributors to society and paid accordingly
  6. That education is about growth for each student rather than arbitrary standards of proficiency
  7. That education is allowed to be fun and actually works better when it is
  8. That enabling students to flourish requires asking them their goals

These eight headings are not defitive or exclusive. They are simply a managable starting point. If I can effectively articulate these points and engage people on them, we may be able to find common ground on student aide and educational policy more broadly. If not, states like mine may continue to defund education at all levels.

In an editorial in the Oklahoman this morning, OU Provost Kyle Harper provided hard numbers for the relative lack of support for OU from the state:

The University of Connecticut, a public flagship very similar in size to OU, receives about $16,500 per undergraduate student from the state, whereas OU receives around $6,200 per undergraduate from state appropriations. Our tuition and fees are also 22 percent lower, yet we offer an equally high-quality educational experience and achieve nearly equal rates of student retention.

As Kyle notes, “We have been doing a lot with a little,” but we need to reach out to Oklahomans and talk with them about why education is important. We cannot take it for granted that people already want to have the best schools; rather, we have to help restore that esteem for and pride in educational systems.

Through chapter three, Sara Goldrick-Rab has been particularly effective in her treatment of the first four points. Thus far the book seems like a really useful reference for both quantitative and qualitative evidence on the simultaneous importance and insufficiency of student aide. I hope that it will also provide a proscriptive argument for how we can move forward.

To Pell Or Not To Pell, Paying The Price – Ch 3 Reflection

Golden Gate Bridge disappearing into the fog.

This chapter certainly stirred a bit of fire in me. In particular, I spent a lot of time wrestling with this ethical question about the current state of the Pell program:

Are we doing students from low-income families a service by funding part of their college expenses or a disservice by giving them false hopes? Is the Pell program a sound financial investment in the nation’s future, or is it a wasteful and ineffective program that allows students access to money–perhaps even enticing them to attend college and incur debt–without ensuring that they graduate from college? – Sara Goldrick-Rab (1)

Federal financial aid needs to be rethought. The fact that a Pell Grant only covered 23% of the cost of attendance for a public, 4-year college in 2012 suggests it’s ineffective. Attending college with this little funding is too much of a gamble. Either, federal financial aid needs increased or the whole financial aid system needs to be reimagined. To me, the best way to communicate this need to the public is to make it personal. For instance, in Paying the Price, Chloe Johnson’s story about paying for college is heartbreaking and a compelling example for why we should focus on building empathy with affected students and prioritize investing in financial aid.

Additionally, we should all be aware of the politically motivated demonization of Pell Grant recipients, which is quite upsetting I might add. (But I’m also sick of politically-motivated-anything at the moment.) First, I wholeheartedly agree with Sara that focusing on “Pell Runners” and not-supported-by-evidence “fraud” distracts from the real issues at hand. Not to mention the politicians who assert that since they were able to pay their way though college (years ago), today’s students must be “lazy.” To me, each of these perspectives dehumanizes the individuals reliant on federal financial aid and this lack of empathy is what troubles me. If our goal is to help students complete college and climb the socioeconomic ladder, we should embrace their experiences, needs, and solicit their feedback to get past these issues.

While I was brainstorming possible solutions this week I had a couple ideas. One way I’d like to see empathy spread about the experiences of Pell recipients is to provide an avenue for these students to submit feedback directly to policymakers. Whether there’s an online form or some kind of public blog to gather and share Pell recipients experiences. Alternatively, I was thinking of ways to foster relationships and gratitude between students and scholarship donors. I’m just throwing these ideas out there in their unrefined state because there may already be these programs and people pursuing such opportunities.

In any case, at the end of the day, we should be working to improve peoples lives through education with the full knowledge of this issue:

The Pell Grant clearly provides an incentive for students to attend college by discounting the price of attendance, but it comes nowhere close to making college affordable. – Sara Goldrick-Rab (2)

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you think about Sara Goldrick-Rab’s question: “Are we doing students from low-income families a service by funding part of their college expenses or a disservice by giving them false hopes?”
  2. How can we promote empathy of students’ Pell experiences?

The featured image is provided CC0 by Simon Stratford via Unsplash.


  1. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, p. 67-68.
  2. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, p. 76-77.

Systems of Cost, Paying the Price – Ch 2 Reflection

Happy, smiling college graduate looking up to the sky. She is wearing a graduate cap.

Although this chapter provided some much needed context for the broader case of improving how we financially supporting college students, I’m not one that needs much convincing. I understand the needs and have even benefited from many of the mentioned financial aid sources.

My main takeaway from this chapter is how complex the systems currently are. In fact, I started to outline the factors that contribute toward the inaccuracies of the predicted cost of college:

Hand written notes showing different sources of cost inaccuracies for predicted costs of college.

I present these notes as a testament to the complexity of the current state of financial aid, but also to illustrate how I’ve been wrestling with ways to simply some of this information to make it more accessible to the public. My first idea was creating infographics from some of core ideas of Paying the Price. Here’s a quick mock-up as an example (note that I am not a designer):

Infographic that says "Rethink the Pell. Only covers 35% of public 4-year college. #payingtheprice"

My main hesitation with this plan is that I don’t want to distill away the value from the ideas presented in Paying the Price in favor of soundbites. That being said, I do see merit in infographics as a means to spread awareness, spark curiosity, and get more people thinking about the cost of college.

Recalling My Financial Aid

This chapter got me thinking about the financial aid I received to attend college. Specifically, I recall having firsthand experience with this problem:

If private aid is available, then state or federally supported aid (excluding the Pell) must be removed such that the cost of attendance is not exceeded. – Sara Goldrick-Rab (1)

While I attended the University of Oklahoma I was a beneficiary of both Oklahoma’s Promise (I knew it as OHLAP) and Sooner Promise. I remember discovering this shortcoming in the financial aid system. Basically, I received a set amount of money from Oklahoma’s Promise/Sooner Promise that was composed from various scholarships and grants. However, if I applied and received scholarships on my own, these would funnel into the set amount of money I was guaranteed. In other words, I had to acquire scholarships in excess of the set Oklahoma’s Promise/Sooner Promise threshold to actually receive money. At the time, this was discouraging, and although I did apply for a few private scholarships, there wasn’t much of a point when such awards were absorbed by the system.

Even though I’m describing this shortcoming of the financial aid system, I do not wish to discredit the aid I received as it did enable me to attend university. Rather, I hope to offer a point of improvement where I envision students benefiting from all of scholarships they receive in addition to programs like Oklahoma’s Promise/Sooner Promise.

Discussion Questions

I’ve been reading blog posts from others who are currently studying Paying the Price and I felt inspired by the discussion questions that Bryan Alexander included in his reflections.

  1. What ways can we engage the community in the content from Paying the Price?
  2. For current financial aid systems where many students qualify but only some are selected to receive, how do we expand these programs? Should we expand these programs?
  3. If you were to redesign the financial aid systems, what would your ideal setup look like? How do we reach for this setup?
  4. What are your thoughts from the last two chapters of Paying the Price?

The featured image is provided CC0 by Juan Ramos via Unsplash.


  1. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, p. 53.

Stories from Paying the Price – Ch 1 Reflection

Book laying open on the table. The words are too blurry to see.

“The democratic community cannot tolerate  a society based upon education for the well-to-do alone. If college opportunities are restricted to those in the higher income brackets, the way is open to the creation and perpetuation of a class society which has no place in the American way of life.” – The Truman Commission (1)

The reason I’m studying the rising cost of college costs is because, at the core, I want a classless society. By understanding and pursuing how to democratize higher education I hope to further this cause. But let’s start with something a bit lighter. ?

My favorite part of Chapter 1 was reading the introductions of Chloe, Ian, Tyler, Nima, Norbert, and Sophie (CINNTS). Their stories will likely be the most significant point of engagement for me while reading. Especially since I’m the same age and understand the value of need-based financial aid firsthand. I’m already a bit anxious about CINNTS stories because I want each of them to succeed, but knowing the book’s topics, I anticipate this will not be the case.

Since the stories of CINNTS are already rather compelling to me, I was thinking about ways to make their journeys more accessible to others. My initial thought would be to build a small choose-your-own-adventure Twine game where people would follow each of CINNTS stories and make choices that would impact their lives. To me, this could be a valuable resource in situations where time and the other topics from Paying the Price are inaccessible to the readers. For example, if you wanted to engage students in the rising cost of college through the stories from Paying the Price without diving into the specifics of Pell Grants. I haven’t committed to producing such a resource because it may be too large an undertaking for me to take on at the moment.

Some of the hard-hitting information from chapter 1 was a bit jarring to me. The current purchasing power of the Pell Grant, in particular, only covers about 35% of the price for a public 4-year college (2). I understand that is a significant amount of money, but it is clearly not enough to fund a student’s collegiate career. Being a product of state and university based aid, I’m dishearten by how many financial aid programs must be received in triplicate to actually cover the cost of college. In other words, only the students who acquire several types of financial aid can cover the full cost of college instead of being able to rely on the Pell Grant alone.

Thinking about higher education as a point of socioeconomic mobility has been engrained in me for as long as I can remember. To me, a college degree yields access to more stable jobs and higher wages to reduce inequality but as Sara points out climbing the social ladder does not occur at an equivalent rate:

There is no guarantee, in other words, that college-educated people from low-income families will not be left behind. – Sara Goldrick-Rab (2)

Alternatively:

People who grow up in economically fragile circumstances often continue to live in economically fragile communities, even after they attend college. – Sara Goldrick-Rab (3)

This challenges what I “known” and expands how I need to be thinking about the benefits of college degrees, the price of college, and how to bear real, lasting change in the world. Since this is only the first chapter of Paying the Price, I’m rather excited to continue reading, reflecting, and writing these next several weeks!

The featured image is provided CC0 by Alex Read via Unsplash.


  1. President’s Commission on Higher Education, Higher Education for American Democracy, 2:23 (as cited in Paying the Price).
  2. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, Figure 6.
  3. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, p. 20.
  4. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, p. 20.