Posted at 6:13 AM on February 18, 2009
by Bob Collins
This week's News Cut on Campus stop is Lake Superior College in Duluth. I'll be setting up in the Internet Cafe to talk to students about their personal economic outlook and educational journey from 10 to noon and then visiting a class.
So posting -- at least from me -- will be limited today. As always, I'll post some student profiles about our conversations later in the day or early this evening.
You can find previous stops on the "tour" here.
For all the effort we put into the process of buying a car, including making sure it makes a distinctive statement about who we are, the reality is that most cars pretty much look like every other car out there, which may be the unintended message we send these days, now that I think of it. We're all pretty much like everybody else.
It wasn't always thus.
On Tuesday, General Motors announced it would consolidate its brands, close some plants, and fire more workers. Its Pontiac brand, already dying, would be taken off life support. Goodbye, muscle cars.
The economic meltdown may well finish off the brands that gave us a pathway to the nostalgia. We have a looming nostalgia crisis. What will the next generation turn to 30 or 40 years from now?
What will we be oogling at over at the State Fairgrounds or on the streets of downtown St. Paul on those hot summer nights? Old Starbucks coffee cups?(4 Comments)
Posted at 5:54 PM on February 18, 2009
by Bob Collins
Tom Mitchell of Duluth is all about local. He grew up in Duluth. He's going to school at Lake Superior College, where I stopped on Wednesday as part of the News Cut on Campus Tour to talk to students about the economy and their futures. He'd like to become a teacher in Duluth, something he says is a passion. His passion comes locally, too.
"I started reading and looking into Paul Wellstone and his passion is what really caught on for me and I've become passionate about what I do," Mitchell told me. "He always said that the future belongs to those who work hard and are passionate and that's what I want to pass on to the 4th graders I'll teach some day."
He says part of growing up is giving back. He has started student-teaching 4th graders. He mentors after school in the Mentor Duluth program. He also organized a drive for faculty and students at the school to make sandwiches for homeless kids in Duluth. He says there are about 50 such youth in Duluth.
He's not picking the easiest job to make a living at these days. He cites a recent report that says up to 600,000 education jobs might be eliminated nationwide because of state budget cuts. He's hoping enough teachers will retire by the time he graduates to make a job possible, but he's concerned many will stay on so that they have health benefits. The Duluth school system is closing schools, eliminating programs, and cutting staff.
Mitchell says he loves the enthusiasm 4th graders have for learning, but he also sees how it is the education system produces kids who aren't proficient in reading or math. "I've seen 2nd and 3rd graders sitting in class all day taking tests, these are 8, 9, and 10-year olds sitting in class taking these high-stakes tests all day long. I've also heard teachers aren't allowed to fail their students, which has some positives but if they're not ready to move on, that's going to affect them when they graduate. Are they really ready for college? Are they ready for the working world?"
Mitchell is paying for school with his parents' help, but says he worries they won't be able to retire because of the help they've provided. He also works part-time at a grocery store to help pay for tuition. His grandfather, who passed away not long ago, also left some help behind. "When his family was growing up, he couldn't afford to send his kids to college so he worked hard to make sure he could help his grandchildren go to college."
Mitchell -- and his future 4th-graders -- are the people politicians talk about when they talk about not leaving more debt for "our children," but he's OK with the stimulus package that will come due some time in his life. "You've got to spend money to make money," he said.
And maybe keep a school or two open.
Posted at 7:21 PM on February 18, 2009
by Bob Collins
During my stop at Lake Superior College in Duluth on Wednesday, I didn't have to ask Ray Ballard if he thinks the plunging economy will affect his future; it already has. Things were going pretty well for Ballard and his wife when they lived in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He was working on designing a children's ministry for an alumnus of the school in Tulsa where he'd pursued a degree in children's ministry. His wife was a film processor for Fuji until six plants were closed and she lost her job last February.
Indiana had raised its property tax on some people and the Ballards went from paying $1,600 a year to $3,800 a year. Without one income, and with the house becoming unaffordable, they returned to their native Duluth. You're not dreaming. Someone moved to Minnesota because the taxes were higher somewhere else.
The Ballards may well be a model for surviving in the new economy. They took some classes on budgeting, realized that Americans spend 102% of what they earn, and pared down expenses. "We''re on our way to becoming debt free. We don't carry any plastic in our pockets," he says.
His wife found work in Duluth, and -- because he fell in love with teaching -- he's in the education program at Lake Superior College, looking to be a 2nd or 3rd-grade teacher.
"I've been working with at-risk youths and families, I actually worked with HUD for awhile in North Tulsa at a Section 8 site, and the adults didn't want to do much, but the kids did. They wanted to really learn... they really wanted to see how they could better their life," he said. "It inspired me even more to want to teach."
When he finishes up at Lake Superior this spring, he'll go to the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth thanks to scholarships. "I've earned about $13,000 in scholarships so far and that pays for half the tuition."
He thinks there's a real future for young teachers in northern Minnesota. Most of the teachers, he says, are retirement age. "The reason they're holding onto their jobs is because of health insurance and if they leave their jobs... they're going to be left like many Americans, wondering how they're going to pay for things."
Teaching is not a moneymaker, he acknowledges, but "none of the fields I've been in has been a moneymaker. I don't do it for the money. I do it because I love the people I work with."
Posted at 8:15 PM on February 18, 2009
by Bob Collins
If you're a dental hygienist in Minnesota, you can find a job, especially outside of the Twin Cities. But many young people who want to go into the career can't get the training because there either (a) aren't enough lab facilities or (b) aren't enough teachers in the state college system. At a time when the politicians are talking about needing to provide jobs, funding to provide either (a) or (b) is being cut. Go figure.
Ashley Goodmund of Marshall, Minnesota knows all about the problem. At Lake Superior College in Duluth, where I stopped on Wednesday to talk to students about the economy, she's sitting at #74 on the list to get into the school's dental hygienist program. Only 20 will get in and she won't know until December whether she'll make the cut. Something's got to happen to 54 other hygienist wannabees.
"My friend just got accepted for this fall. She's been waiting for three years."
She originally started on a graphic design career at the University of Minnesota Duluth, but saw the quality of competition from other students and decided her future is in teeth.
"I love teeth," she said.
Her logic makes sense. "With graphic design, anyone can do that. People can take their own photos and wedding pictures," she said. But not everyone can clean people's teeth and "people are always going to have teeth."
When she gets out of school -- if she gets into the hygienist program in the first place -- she says she's "99 percent sure" she's going to move to Arizona, home of many old people with questionable choppers.
There, she can work and pay off her student loans, which are helping to cover whatever help from her parents can't. Like many people I've met during the News Cut on Campus Tour, Ashley's in the middle. "I'm not, like, super rich and I'm not, like, super poor," she said, explaining why out of the "eight million" grants and scholarships she applied for, she got none. She used $27,000 in loans to attend UMD, and another $3,000 for Lake Superior College, "and I'm nowhere near done," she says.
"I try to take out the minimum amount of loans that I can. I work 24/7 so I don't have to worry about extra loans," she said. She's currently balancing three jobs and coursework.
While she's waiting to hit the dental hygienist lottery, she's taking courses that will allow her to obtain a higher degree, leaving her the option of becoming a dentist.
Becky Segbee experienced serious culture shock when she arrived in the Twin Cities from Liberia about nine years ago. "I always thought America was a land of gold, and people walked on gold," she told me during my News Cut on Campus stop at Lake Superior College in Duluth on Wednesday.
When the civil war started in Liberia in 1990, her uncle in St. Paul "sent for a whole bunch of his young-generation family to come to the States and I was one of them," she says.
After finishing high school in the Cities, Segbee set out for a career in the theater at the University of Minnesota Duluth, but found out that being a stage manager wasn't for her. She describes herself as "super calm, super quiet, and super shy," three characteristics for which stage managers will never be known. She switched to biology and found that wasn't for her, either.
"Then I decided to start low and grow little by little," so she transferred to the smaller college to work on her Associate of Arts degree, before transferring back to UMD for a sociology degree. "I want to, hopefully, work with little kids and it doesn't have to be in America. I want to travel so much; just go."
She has at least one stop to make. Liberia. Her parents are still there and she hasn't seen them for nine years. "It sucks," she says. "I really miss my mom and dad, but it's OK because I have a whole community around me."
She says she wishes LSC was a four-year school because she knows more of her professors than she did at UMD where, she contends, professors are "always busy. They're cranky, little people, so I'd just say, 'OK, I won't bug you, I'll just pretend I know this.'"
Like many students, she's surviving on loans and financial aid. "I am so grateful that America has such thing called financial aid, and taking out loans and stuff. I don't know how I would pay back when I'm done with school, but I know there's going to be a way. I'm just so grateful that the school and the government helps in that way."2 Comments)
Posted at 9:33 PM on February 18, 2009
by Bob Collins
There's nothing scientific about the News Cut on Campus methodology. I pull up to a college, set up a table, and the people who sit down to talk to me do so on their own accord. Since it's not scientific, I can't say with any certainty that they are representative of a generation, so I'll say it uncertainly: They are interested in getting an education and then going out and doing good, and if there's money to be made in the process, so much the better.
When I came up with the idea for the weekly chats about how students are feeling about the economy, I didn't expect to find that. It's not scientific, but then again, few other sweeping generalizations about a group of people are either.
Meet Eva Nordling of Bayfield, Wisc., a student at Lake Superior College in Duluth, my stop on Wednesday.
"I'm graduating this spring with my AA, then I'll transfer back to UMD (University of Minnesota Duluth) to get degree in Spanish," she said. She wants to be a translator and work in Mexico.
Her family travels there once a year and volunteers at whatever places need some help. "Last year we went to a small village on the west side of Mexico and we worked at an orphanage just chilling with the kids," she said. 'My mom made Play Doh with them and we helped them with their schoolwork." Nordling says the family has no relatives there; they just like to find places that need help, and go. "My mom's not really into the whole Cancun scene, so we wanted something really tiny where there are no other tourists."
After her year at UMD, Eva went to Florida to work on Habitat for Humanity houses. "That's when I picked up Spanish really fast. I taught myself."
She fights the economy that's unfriendly to college kids. "My rent went up, I don't have a job, so my parents help me out, but my mom might lose her job so they might not be able to help me out."
Because she took semesters off to build houses for people who needed them in Florida, and chill with the kids in Mexico, Nordling was unable to get financial aid. She's paying for school out of her pocket and with help from her parents. If she doesn't get financial aid for UMD, she says she'll just "go volunteer somewhere."
Posted at 10:09 PM on February 18, 2009
by Bob Collins
The Air Force veteran was working for a pharmaceutical company in Baudette as an electronics calibration technician. "With things getting tight and cutbacks, it was inevitable that there was going to be layoffs so I resigned," he told me during my stop at Lake Superior College in Duluth, where he's studying to be an electrician.
Dillman, 43, thought he could get out in front of the economic wave, and find work in a bigger city like Duluth before more people got laid off and became his competition, but his "leap of faith" hasn't fully worked out yet.
"The bad way to look at it is my wages have been cut to a third. The good thing is there's always something you can take -- it doesn't matter what the pay of what the job is -- there's always some type of skill or knowledge that you can take to your next job," he said. "It doesn't matter if I've worked at Holiday as a sales associate or if I've been a calibration technician for a big pharmaceutical manufacturer, there's still basic things you can take from one job to another."
"This is an investment in me," he said. "And an investment in me means I'll be able to go out and help others like my children, and not have to work so hard and be able to spend more time with them."
It took him about a month to find work but everything so far has been part-time with no benefits, "and that's tough when you have a family." He's got two sons at home -- one who is near college age -- and a daughter working on her Master's back East. He's been an assistant cook for 525 children in the Northern Lights School District in Superior, Wisconsin and was a bell driver at Sheraton.
In the meantime, he's taking classes at the college trying to "widen his base" so he's not just in one field. He's taking out loans for classes in electronics, shopping at second-hand stores, and living a frugal life that was his nature long before the economy went south.
"I was raised by my grandparents and the benefit of that was I basically was raised through the Depression also, so I'm not the type who has to have the brand name, as long as there's food on the table, heat and a roof over my head, that's fine with me."
"Until things turn around to the positive, these are the things people are going to have to do."