Debbie Downer

Editorial submitted by Conrad Doyle


Ever heard of “Debbie Downer”? We all know him/her. We all would like to tell them to take a hike and with them take their negativity. Debbie Downer has to turn every happy occasion into a wet blanket party, never satisfied or appreciative.

Alcorn State University, Santa Fe College and West Kentucky Community and Technical College are all working-class colleges. Most of their students are lower-income and many are the first member of their family to attend or graduate from college. Even more inspiring are the numerous student stories of the hardships that many of these students have endured in their short lives.

I have to admit that I am only vaguely familiar with one of these schools and have never heard of the other two. I had no idea that there was a Community and Technical College in Western Kentucky. These colleges are trying to educate these students on a shoestring budget.

I read a recent publication that broke down the spending budgets for students in attendance. West Kentucky spends $7,200 annually per student on education — money that needs to cover the salaries of professors and support staff, as well as labs and other educational resources. Alcorn State (in Mississippi) and Santa Fe (in Florida) each spend less than $14,000. So does Borough of Manhattan Community College, in New York.(NYT)

Want to guess how much money Ivy League colleges spend on education per student each year? About $100,000 on average, according to a report by Third Way. Elite public universities often spend more than $30,000. It would be interesting to see if these high dollar educational institutions turn out higher educated students than the small, rural institutions? I doubt it but completely agree that as the article explained “These examples of funding gaps exacerbate both economic and racial inequality.” Rural colleges tend to have low graduation rates. Many of their students struggle to find good-paying jobs and to repay their college loans. Graduates of the smaller or rural schools often find themselves unable to remove socio-economic obstacles found when returning to their home community.

This week we learned that MacKenzie Scott (ex-wife and co-founder of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos) made donations that totaled more than $4 billion to a number of organizations focused on economic hardship. “This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling,” Scott says.

Of her chosen 384 recipients, 36 colleges that include those mentioned above, all have large numbers of lower-income students. In some cases, these gifts are the largest that the colleges have ever received.

“I was stunned,” stated Ruth Simmons, the president of Prairie View A&M, a historically Black university in Texas, When Simmons heard in a phone call that the gift would be $50 million, she wasn’t sure she had heard correctly. The caller had to clarify: “five-zero.”

Higher education experts are praising Scott for giving money to the colleges that need it the most, rather than to colleges that already have the most. Her choice of recipients was best described as “brilliant” said one observer.

Now here is where Debbie Downer steps into the picture. You can recognize her/him because they always begin their input by using the word “BUT”. In this case Debbie is disguised as an “Expert”.

BUT, experts are careful to add another point: Scott’s gifts are not nearly large enough to erase the annual funding gaps created by the government. Her donations will make a difference in part because the problem they’re trying to address is so severe. The country’s higher education system often hampers upward mobility.

And with these three sentences, the joy of the gifts and the giver are made to be of little to no value. I am personally very moved by her act/gift as it will enhance the education and lives of those students that are in need of her gifts.


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