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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Class Act Discussion: Is Carleton’s Middle Class Disappearing?

<rge sheets of paper lined the walls with discussion questions about socioeconomic diversity and students’ written answers to the questions. An important guest from financial aid had just arrived and students were gathered in the Cassat Game Room, anxious to begin the discussion on the future of socioeconomic diversity at Carleton.

“In short, I believe it is always good for students, faculty, and staff to engage in dialogue about issues of diversity and social justice,” said Toni Grant, Hall Director for Goodhue. “College creates this fantastic opportunity in life, where students can literally learn something new or have a new experience every day.”

Associate Dean of Admissions and Director of Student Financial Services Rodney Oto discussed the college’s role in giving financial aid to the middle class. However, “we sort of interchange middle class with middle income. It makes discussions about the middle class even more difficult,” he said.

Even families with high incomes believe that they belong in the middle class. Oto said of calling oneself middle class, “it is a lifestyle [and] it is a culture.”

Oto, then, discussed the situation of financial aid for the middle class, saying, “[financial aid] has taken a dip in the [40  to 100 thousand dollar income brackets] in the past few years.”

In contrast, the percentage of families with higher incomes receiving financial aid has increased the most in recent years. “Some of that is expected as our costs go up, even more qualify for [financial aid] that they now qualify (for it),” Oto said.

These families definitely still received a lot less financial aid than lower income families, but this has created a worrying trend for admissions.

The Carleton Strategic Plan establishes “that we need to maintain a presence (for the middle class) and counter any dip we may be seeing,” Oto said.

He worried about middle class families becoming more reluctant to pay the high costs of tuition, saying, “the effects of the recession [have been harmful to] all families but middle income families in particular are a lot more cautious about spending money.”

“Education is tough because you may not see [the benefit] right away,” said Oto, “what you are doing now is for the rest of your lives; what you learn now we hope you keep for the rest of your career.”

Trio holds a Class Act event each term but this one stood out for “wanting to step away from both extremes of the socioeconomic spectrum, lower class and higher class, and focus more on  the middle class, which hasn’t been addressed as much in past Class Act discussions,” said Erica Cruz ‘15.

Erica Cruz said the organizers had two goals for the event: “to bring awareness to socioeconomic diversity on our campus and the implications of losing that diversity” and “to spark discussion regarding socioeconomic diversity and how it affects our lives as Carleton students.”

Many students did not know much about socioeconomic diversity before coming to the event, but left with new knowledge about the issue. “I think at least the people in my discussion group learned about how easy it is to make assumptions about our peers’ socioeconomic backgrounds and how wrong those assumptions can be,” said Robbie Emmet ’16.

“I really went in without knowing much at all about the subject matter,” said John Bromell ’16, “Now I think it is really important for Carleton to have a policy that yields a socioeconomic diversity in the body of students that enroll, because it enriches the learning experiences of the students here.”

The event also definitely sparked discussion. “Mostly, I liked the atmosphere,” said Madeline King ’16, “and the fact that I knew that here was a room full of people who’d come to talk about something important that doesn’t usually work its way into conversation here.”

In short, the event educated and inspired the large number of students who attended. “In order to enhance one’s understanding of how the world works,” said Grant, “one must engage in the world and in these conversations.”

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