Nov 2, 2017 in Review
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Keep Low-Income Students in School

The following article “Community Colleges Work to Keep Low-Income Students in School” written by Joanne Jacobs (2012) tells the reader about low-income students, the issues they have, and how the Single Stop program can be useful in solving these issues. According to Jacobs, Single Stop USA is “a nonprofit that helps low-income students and their families apply for public aid, as well as legal and financial counseling and free tax preparation.” Thus, Single Stop provides low-income students with the opportunity to stay in a college and graduate instead of dropping out of it because of money issues.

In this case, only the particular case of low-income students and community colleges is explored. However, it is possible to obtain a broader perspective regarding the poverty problem and related issues using the concept of sociological imagination. This concept can be described in many ways and can have many definitions. One of the appropriate definitions is as follows: it is the capability to see and understand things in a social context and realize their interconnection and the mutual influence on each other. In other words, it is the ability to think about a situation from the alternative point of view in any situation. Sociological imagination allows tying human behaviors (micro-level) and society (macro-level) together to see a situation as a whole.

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The Problem and its Background 

The problem and its background described in the article are rather common for modern society. Low-income students are a part of any society and, more to say, they constitute a rather substantial part of the students’ sub-society. Such a social issue can be called relative poverty. According to Murray (2008), “under a certification system, four years is not required, the residence is not required, expensive tuitions are not required, and a degree is not required.” Students from such groups might not have enough resources to focus on education and they have to perform other duties such as hard work on several jobs, taking care of somebody from the family, etc. It influences their education and its overall quality. Hadfield (2006) states the following: “The greatest obstacle to graduates finding work was the lack of relevance of their qualifications, according to 50% of those surveyed.” Moreover, such a state of things can make a student leave the educational facility without completed education. The social issue of relative poverty is rather common these days for students, as it has already been mentioned, and it is a substantial problem for many young people that do not have any material support from their families.

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The Concept of Social Imagination

The concept of social imagination allows seeing and realizing how the relative poverty of some students affects the entire society – smart and dedicated people cannot realize their potential because of money issues. However, this issue has a solution, partial, at least. Single Stop services, provided by the non-profit organization, allow students to stay in the educational facility and continue their studies. Simple things to support students make this social issue ‘solvable’, give hope and inner strength to students, strengthen their belief in society as a compassionate environment.

The process functions and produces order, productivity, and relative stability. In case the situation changes, according to this perspective, the above-mentioned parts of the society have to adapt to the new order of things to assure orders, productivity, and stability. Thus, if a financial recession occurs, unemployment and inflation grow, so the social programs are cut. The schools can offer fewer programs and families cut out their budgets. The overall situation becomes stable again. As it can be noticed, functionalism considers the relationship between the smaller parts’ functions and the functions of the entire ‘mechanism’.

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Conflict Theory

Conflict theory grounds on the challenge of the status quo, promotion of the social change (even such radical ones, as social revolution), and presupposes that the powerful and rich elite suppress social order on the poor and the weak layers of society. The following situation can be provided as an example: a board of regents can raise the payments for education so they could pay for unnecessary programs to raise the prestige of an educational facility instead of making better programs that could be more suitable for students.

Sociologists find the reasons for social conflict appearance between any groups that differ one from another. According to such an approach, unequal groups compete with each other and it forms the ever-changing nature of society. The theory sees the perspective of society’s development in this everlasting struggle of competition. However, it is criticized for the general negative approach to the humanitarian characteristics of the society and capitalistic base to control masses instead of the inherent desire of the society to keep social order.

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Thus, each word has a certain meaning and this meaning is subjective to everyone. Those people, who communicate effectively, have a similar understanding of the meaning of these words-symbols. Higher education, for example, has a different meaning for students. Some students percept it as the opportunity to develop, become better, etc. Dobson (2010) states: “A college diploma can help a student get a good job, but certainly doesn’t ensure it.” Others evaluate university as the possibility to get a good job and live a prosperous, wealthy life. Two meanings of the same words show how different the perspective can be and how the symbolic nature differs.

The mechanical approach to the functioning of society creates a certain scheme of how a student should act in society. Therefore, low-income students must not leave the university and stay there until the end of their education. Their role is predefined and the goal of getting education and graduation must be accomplished to become a functional part of the society. Colleges stand on the position that “a college education is more about enlightenment than employment”, according to Nemko (2008). The low income of students and there, literally, fight for being students fits this theory perfectly. People struggling from relative poverty withstand rich people to have a better future – this is the illustration of the conflict theory. On the other hand, low-income students want to be educated specialists and be part of society instead of conflicting with it. Therefore, it is not the best option to apply in this case either. 

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