“The trouble with being poor is that it takes up all your time.”
Willem de Kooning quoted in the Richmond, Virginia Times-Dispatch

When working with higher education professionals who support under-resourced college students, we start by discussing the mental models of three economic classes (poverty, middle class and wealth). Doing so allows us 1) to establish a shared understanding of the economic environment of each class and 2) to acknowledge that this economic environment has a major influence on individuals’ choices and driving forces.

More specifically, by establishing an abstract representation of the realities of poverty, participants come to realize that under-resourced students are problem solvers who possess expertise concerning the subject of their economic class and environment. This paradigm shift lays the foundation for a newfound cognitive dissonance.

Further discussion of mental models reveals how the items below differ amongst social classes:

  • Allocation of time (and how that affects stability)
  • Time horizons
  • Access to power and choices
  • Relationships
  • Connections
  • Future stories
  • Achievement

For example, individuals in poverty are typically forced to focus on the immediacy of any number of  problems. Simply put, because they are stuck in a cycle of solving today’s issues, they are unable to plan for tomorrow and the future. Therein lies the “tyranny of the moment.”

It isn’t that our first-generation college students don’t want to be successful in college; rather, it is that many life events are crowding studies, papers, and tutoring out of the way. What can we do to help?

At aha! Process, we have in depth conversations about how the environment impacts higher ed success.  Today we can begin by developing relationships of mutual respect with our first generation, under-resourced students. We can first seek to understand the environments of our students, THEN develop the strategies that keep students learning, achieving, graduating and employed in good paying, quality jobs. Once this paradigm shifts occurs, we can implement new tactics to achieve the graduation results we are looking for.

Join us in the discussion. #retention @ahaprocess