Friday Fragments | Confessions of a Community College Dean

Senators Promote Partnerships to Boost Affordability



Congratulations to the New York Times on hiring its newest contributing opinion writer, Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom.

Given her comments about David Brooks in Thick, I look forward to some lively exchanges of ideas …


My thanks to the readers who responded to my piece earlier this week about undecided students. Chad Orzel’s response struck me as particularly on-point.


As longtime readers know, my grandfather dropped out of the 9th grade to support his family.  He started as a tree trimmer, and later found work as an electrical lineman for Detroit Edison. That unionized job enabled him to send his daughter — my mom — to the University of Michigan at a time when sending a girl there was still considered unusual. (The argument Mom used to convince him: “I want to marry a doctor.  Where will I meet one?” She still chuckles about that.)  He was a very smart man, and he respected education, but he didn’t need one to be able to get a job that paid a family-sustaining wage.


Jobs like those are scarcer now.  The major unionized jobs around Detroit at the time were concentrated in the car industry, where the UAW was powerful. Now it’s harder to find work at places like that, and new employees typically make much less than “legacy” ones. With fewer appealing options, college becomes more of a default choice.


That’s a much larger political and economic issue than any given college can solve on its own. People who might have chosen to work at the Ford plant, if the option still existed, now don’t have that option. Some find their way to community college.


Our task is to help those students find opportunities they might not see when they get here, and to equip them to seize those opportunities.  As the economy gets more polarized, that job gets harder.  But it’s good work, even if it’s only part of the solution.

Speaking of Moms, this piece by Rani Molla nicely encapsulates the strains that working parents — and especially mothers — have been under during the pandemic.


I had to smile at its invocation of parenting styles of the 1970’s. As some of us may remember, it wasn’t considered weird then — at least in some areas — for parents to basically throw kids out of the house in the morning with a “go play, and be home in time for dinner.” The concept of “play dates” was utterly foreign; instead, you’d walk over to your friend’s house, ring the bell, and ask if they could come out and play.


That’s not how it works anymore.


By the time I became a parent in 2001, the rules had changed drastically. Parenting had become a verb, and it denoted something much more intense. By then the price of housing had jumped significantly in real terms, too, so the social pressure was matched by increased economic pressure.


Now, for young parents, it’s even harder. Combine even-more-expensive housing with the dislocations of the pandemic, and the 70’s style of parenting starts to look like science fiction.


I’m just old enough to remember serious speculation that the influx of mothers into the salaried workforce would force workplaces to become more flexible and humane in how they treated people.  That mostly didn’t happen.  Now, most of the time, people have to choose between a family-supporting wage and family-friendly hours.  Jobs that provide both are rare.


The pandemic has shown that remote work is actually work; the great fear that folks would just sit at home and do nothing proved unfounded.  Here’s hoping that some employers use that lesson to reduce the strain on employees. The trend lines can’t keep going like this.

The Boy is home for a bit, visiting before heading back to Virginia. His girlfriend was here for a couple of days, too, during which time a previous foot injury flared up.


I’ll admit some shameless parental pride is seeing how thoughtful he was toward her when she was struggling with crutches. He went out of his way to make sure she was comfortable, and lugged whatever needed to be lugged without complaint.


Parenting is not for the faint of heart. But seeing your child emerge as a good person and a good adult, one who cares for others without being asked, is incredibly gratifying.



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