This winner of this week’s #TCFBest is from Inside Higher Ed’s Confessions of a Community College Dean blog. The piece, Three Dollar People, explores the fact that while community colleges serve about 40 percent of all college students (most of whom are from low-income families), community colleges receive the least amount of funding support. The author, Matt Reed (@deandad), academic vice president at Holyoke Community College, compares the public’s impression of community colleges attendees to Detroit’s “three dollar people.” He discusses where that phrase came from:
The Detroit Pistons were in their glory at that point, but tickets to games were expensive and hard to come by. So the Pistons broadcast their away games to their home arena and sold tickets to those, well, screenings, for three bucks. The idea was to give fans from Detroit (as opposed to its suburbs) a chance to have the experience of rooting for the team in a crowd.
The article quoted a vendor at the arena who wasn’t happy about the broadcast attracting the wrong element. The line has stayed with me since then. “When you sell three dollar tickets,” he sniffed, “you get three dollar people.”
And the three dollar people could see their team, but only when the team wasn’t there.
However, as a community college dean, he sees the so-called three dollar people's success stories everyday.
Some of the three dollar people will surprise you. I never get tired of the success stories. They’re tributes to hard work, of course, and to the sacrifices of families, friends, and children. But they’re also affirmations, however unintentional, of the nobler, more inclusive side of American culture. A side that remembers that you can’t always tell who has the next great idea just by looking.
I’ve got nothing against research universities; I got my doctorate at one. But it would be nice if we could shift the public discussion a bit from the “climbing walls” and luxury dorms of residential universities. More American undergrads attend community colleges than research universities. The funding issues here aren’t about out-of-control costs. At some level, it’s hard not to think they’re about writing off the three dollar people.
We highly recommend reading the article for more insights on how America seems to value institutions or programs based on the people they serve. You can also download our new report on strengthening community colleges, written by a task force who set out to change the current perception of community colleges.
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