Friday Fragments | Confessions of a Community College Dean

A new study out by Katharine Broton, Milad Mohebali and Sara Goldrick-Rab (paywalled, ironically enough) finds that when community colleges provide meal cards and some proactive outreach to students, the students who get those meal cards graduate at higher rates than students who don’t.

It’s the kind of small, targeted, common-sense intervention that many places could enact.

Goldrick-Rab has argued for years that the K-12 student lunch program should be extended to community colleges. I agree, though I’d take it a step farther. In her senior year, my daughter’s high school provided all lunches free; students didn’t even have the option of paying. (It was part of a federal program using COVID relief money.) It was wonderful. Nobody had “lunch debt” (!), nobody faced a stigma for getting free lunch and we never had to remember or scurry to make a lunch before she left for school. It was simple, easy and quick, and nobody had to feel awkward about getting free or reduced-price lunch. Everyone got food on the same basis. A brief experiment in universalism worked brilliantly. Instead of spending money on tracking down students who didn’t have much, or chasing paperwork, the school could devote resources just to feeding students.

The connection between basic needs security and the ability to learn isn’t new. Aristotle believed that only those who were free from spending their time on material necessity—that is, men who weren’t laborers—had the time to devote to higher things like politics. We’ve known this for a while; the latest research confirms it.

Here’s hoping it finds a wide readership.

This may seem random, but I was more affected than I expected to be when I heard that Tim McCarver died.

McCarver was a catcher for several major league teams, but I knew him mostly as an announcer for the Mets in the ’90s. In grad school at Rutgers in the ’90s, I was pretty broke most of the time. I couldn’t afford to go to games, but I could watch them on TV. Back then, Channel 9 carried Mets games with McCarver and Ralph Kiner. My friend Bern and I would watch game after game after game.

For context, this was during one of the many long stretches during which the Mets were terrible. These were the Dallas Green years. This was when they had a pitcher, Anthony Young, who set a major league record for losing the most games in a row. One did not watch mid-’90s Mets games to enjoy vicarious triumph. The experience was closer to a combination of solace and penance.

McCarver’s style as an announcer was polarizing. He knew a lot and wasn’t afraid to prove it. He also wasn’t afraid to criticize the home team when he thought the criticism fair. I enjoyed his style, partly because it was so analytical and it helped me understand the game more deeply.

Reading the obits, I realized it may also partly have been because he was almost exactly the same age as my dad, and they grew up in the same city. His accent was comforting. It felt familiar. During some fairly bleak times, when I was stressed out about grad school and too broke to do much else, his Mets games gave me something else to focus on.

Thank you, Tim McCarver. You helped make grad school a little more bearable.

Thanks, too, to the readers who responded to the piece about TG’s professors warning her away from pursuing a career as an English professor. Reading the emails, I realized that I had omitted a crucial detail: she never told them she was aiming for a career as an English professor. They brought it up independently.

Several people made the point that her professors were trying to do a good deed. They almost certainly were. She and I were both struck, though, by the sheer weirdness of it. Had she brought it up, the effect would likely have been less jarring.

I don’t know which paths she’ll take, but I know she’ll be amazing.

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