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Letter to the Editor: participate in the capital campaign

in Letter to the Editor/Opinions by

This past week, Swarthmore College publicly launched the “Changing Lives, Changing the World,” an ambitious $450 million comprehensive capital campaign. This campaign purports to preserve, and promote, the college’s commitment to curricular diversity, social impact and, of course, inclusive community. A recent Philadelphia Business Journal outlines just how the large sum of money that the campaign aims to raise will be delegated to benefit Swatties. Among the results that the campaign is expected to have are an interdisciplinary academic building, increased financial aid support for incoming students, more resources in support of Swarthmore’s commitment to social impact and infrastructure renovation.  Yet, it would be a mistake to solely emphasize the monetary value of this campaign. For all intents and purposes, this campaign provides a meaningful opportunity for Swarthmore community members—current staff and students, alumni, and friends—to have a stake in the overall improvement of Swarthmore College. Surely financial contributions have to be made in support of this campaign, yet those contributing, especially young alumni, should see this campaign as an opportunity to contribute to a better, more enriching and more inclusive Swarthmore experiences for future Swatties.

While a student at Swarthmore, I benefitted from a full college experience. Both on and off campus, I participated in cultural groups, I was placed in meaningful summer internships and I participated in various extracurricular activities that enriched the education I received in the classroom. Yet, I recognize that what I now call my Swarthmore experience would not have been possible if it wasn’t for the generosity of members of the Swarthmore community—like the Kohlberg family, and others—that came before me. In that spirit, I think it is important that alumni, particularly recent alumni, support the “Changing Lives, Changing the World” campaign.

Recent alumni share a unique perspective of Swarthmore College. After all, we have graduated from Swarthmore and can acknowledge that our lives no longer revolve around an arboretum. Yet, we still share a kind of familiarity with Swarthmore which enables us to not fully feel disconnected from current students. Just as importantly, many of us can recall having concerns, holding conversations and participating in amphitheater convocations during which we wanted to build a more inclusive and nuanced community at Swarthmore. Many of us may even recall the frustration we felt towards “the administration,” whom we felt, at times, was not responding to our concerns, or worse, was part of what we perceived to be the problem. I think Swarthmore heard us, and through this campaign, we have an opportunity to help create the Swarthmore we wish we had when we were students.

For some, this campaign may elicit some concern. For instance, asking recent alumni to contribute financially may be regarded as an undue burden to recent graduates who are still transitioning into adult life. That transition, understandably, can be especially difficult for recent graduates with student loans to pay off, as well as other financial obligations. That said, recent alumni still have an obligation to future generations of Swatties. In one way or another, someone had our backs while at Swarthmore, and we have to pay it forward.

I am not assuming that this campaign is an all-encompassing solution to all the concerns that all Swarthmore students may have. I do believe, however, this campaign presents an opportunity for alumni to channel the energy, love, and frustration that we had, and many of us still have, towards Swarthmore to make sure future Swatties have everything they may need to reach their full potential during their time at Swarthmore. During the announcement of the campaign’s public launch, Political Science Professor and Executive Director of The Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, Ben Berger, framed the campaign in a way that I think is relevant to all Swarthmore community members, including alumni. “The product [of the campaign] is us,” Professor Berger said while speaking to a crowd of students, faculty and alumni. Further, the goal of the campaign, Professor Berger mentioned, is “everyone here.” He was right. There really is one beneficiary of this campaign—Swarthmore College. And we are all—students, alumni, faculty, parents, etc.—a part of Swarthmore College. Thus, we have a responsibility to contribute to its improvement so that future generations of Swatties may benefit from our involvement, and they can then pay it forward themselves.

What’s the deal with financial aid?

in Columns/Opinions by

This is going to get a bit personal, but bear with me. I receive financial aid from Swarthmore, and a pretty hefty amount. I am exceedingly grateful to this institution for my scholarship, without which Swarthmore would cost more than my family earns in a year.

This is strange, because my family is, by any reasonable measure, pretty well off. We’re a little over the American median family income ($50 to $55 thousand a year, for those not keeping track), own a house, and lack any major outstanding debts. My parents have been careful to save for college and retirement, and both have terminal degrees. Our lower income (which, again, isn’t low) for their education is due to a desire to avoid the rat race, and a certain class warrior spirit on the part of my father. And yet there is no way we could have afforded Swat.

Fifty-two percent of Swarthmore students receive scholarship assistance through the college, which rises to 70 percent of students if one includes those who participate in work-study or take out loans for college. Even if some of those work-study jobs are taken by students who don’t “need” them, that’s a lot of students who need help paying for Swat.

But a lot of students don’t. If Swarthmore costs $61,400 a year and 30 percent of students receive no assistance paying that bill while continuing to attend the institution, we’re talking about a decent chunk of the student body that is way off the bell curve in terms of family income. Not that this is a problem, it’s just worth keeping in mind when we discuss our campus as though it is in any way representative of the greater population. Remember, my family is financially secure, and Swarthmore is an impossibility without aid.

As with all things, there is an incredible diversity of experiences with financial aid. The only common narrative is the yearly struggle with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, followed by a three-month tense wait to determine if we will be attending school again in the fall. Every year, I’ve been lucky enough to find that, while my expenses increased, they increased in line with the FAFSA predictions such that my family could cover it. Not all of my acquaintances have been so lucky.

The stories tend to be similar. Swarthmore promised a large amount of aid in the first year, only to drastically slash it in the second. Family members were laid off, but the scholarship remained the same. Students could only find unpaid internships and were left without the necessary summer earnings.

Other times it’s a bit more complicated. Students who buy new designer clothes each week and eat out regularly are concerned they’re going broke, living work-study paycheck to work-study paycheck. It almost makes one feel for the conservative line about personal responsibility.

Except this is nonsense. There is another side to my experience of financial aid, and one I want to be careful discussing. There is a feeling of needing to disguise oneself that I have felt throughout my time at Swat. Freshman year, a student commented that he didn’t like doing laundry, “ … so maybe I’ll just throw my clothes away and keep buying cheap stuff from H&M.” When I brought this up with other people, the response was, “Well, he can’t help where he’s from.” This was the same year that Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” turned my childhood clothing store, something I was trying to keep hidden, into a fashion boutique, at least when the song was on the Hot 100. I own, and wear, my Grandpa’s Florsheims. I look incredible. But it was surreal to see something I did out of necessity become a temporary fashion icon.

I don’t think this experience is unique to students on financial aid, but it’s certainly exaggerated. Those friends who spend all of their work-study money each week are trying to keep up with a perceived standard, an image of what “normal” is.

There was a study that demonstrated that Americans viewed themselves as middle class until they were earning a million a year. For context, the famous 1% income cut-off is at around $250,000, notably the approximate maximum for financial aid eligibility. In other words, most people think their income is around “normal.” Additionally, we have a tendency to compare up, rather than down. We measure our status against those who have more, rather than those who have less.

This is a challenge on a national scale, but it carries particular weight in a strange environment like Swarthmore. Relative to the broader population, we are one of the most diverse places in the world. While our incomes are not representative (skewing far higher than the national average), there is a much broader distribution than one would find elsewhere. This is incredibly valuable, a chance for a crossover of experience.

And yet, that’s not what happens. Open conversations about money are taboo. Even in trying to write this column, I talked with a couple of my closest friends about our experiences with money and it was very tense. Norms around spending and saving are personal, and any comparison between habits necessarily feels judgmental. Every financial aid award letter has a section laying out “personal expenditures,” but how can that be standardized? We have all come from different families, and are socialized into different habits.

We need to find a way to talk about these things. This requires a level of sensitivity towards others experiences, accepting others anxieties about money without questioning their habits, while remaining aware that the breadth of students at Swat means we can be a source of that anxiety.

Philly on a Budget

in Campus Journal/Columns/Philly Beat by

Ever feel like you would love to go explore Philly but do not want to spend money? Ever feel like you want to eat the closest thing to a home-cooked meal or even try something new?

There is an insurmountable number of things to do and places to explore at little to no cost. Enjoy a full day out in Philadelphia for under $20 — after all, walking around and exploring the city is completely free! In this piece I will be writing about an entire day outing in two different budgets, under $20 and $20-$40. I will be using a combination of some of my favorite places to go, along with recommendations I have received from others.

 

Unfortunately, transport is the one inescapable cost. For a full day out, get the SEPTA independence pass for $12, and use it all day for any public transportation to travel around the city. Over the last few weeks, Lyft has had an ongoing promotion of 50 percent off on weekdays, and Friday is the perfect day to go out since not much happens around Swarthmore. Split the Lyft between four people and it ends up costing around $3.50-$4 per person one way. Rent a Zipcar at an hourly price, or maybe you are lucky to have an awesome friend with a car on campus!

Under $20

One of my absolute favorite places to go for a relaxed afternoon is Spruce Street Harbor Park. Situated right on Penn’s Landing beside the Delaware River, the park has hammocks all over the place and an amazing view. Lie down on the hammocks with a few friends, enjoy the fresh air and take in the sun’s rays before this weather leaves us. Take a picnic blanket and a few snacks and really enjoy the area. The hammocks are located right in front of a marina on the river, where you can rent kayaks, paddle boats shaped like swans and more. Rent a 5 person rowing boat for $5 for half an hour, only $1 per person. Take turns rowing as you catch up with friends and get to know them outside of the swat bubble. I would definitely recommend making the most of this while the weather is still sunny. Get up and walk by the roller skating rink that turns into an ice skating rink by the end of November, and either join in on the fun or just enjoy the ambiance of other families and festive decorations around the rink, situated right by the water.

Next, head out to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I would suggest going on Wednesday evenings after 5 or on the first Sunday of every month to take advantage of their “pay what you  wish” hours. Admire paintings by Picasso, local folk pieces, modern art and even a Japanese tea room. There is so much to see and admire that you can easily spend many hours at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

My personal favorite place to eat is a Middle Eastern restaurant and lounge in University City called Aloosh. They have a deal where four appetizers cost only $20, and provide more than enough food to split between two people. Aloosh has a range of Middle Eastern dishes and food that can be enjoyed for under $20, along with a great atmosphere, a varied soundtrack and bellydancers on weekends. The decor in the restaurant is very cozy and yet very cultural, with a fun atmosphere and a relatively young crowd. A group of around 20 Swatties who were on campus early this fall went to Aloosh and absolutely loved it — Highly recommended.

$20-$40

For all the other Asian-fusion food lovers out there, Philly has an abundance of amazing Asian-fusion places. Han Dynasty and Aki are two of my favorite places to go. Han Dynasty is more laid-back and casual, with great food and a location in the heart of University City that is  constantly packed with college students. Aki is a Japanese-fusion restaurant that can be ordered a la carte or as an all-you-can-eat sushi menu with over 100 dishes to order for $26.95 per person. Pick either one of those two for lunch or dinner; they will definitely not disappoint.

After lunch, head to the current number one on my Philly bucket list: Escape the Room. It is an interactive game and a mystery puzzle that takes place in one room with ten people, and the objective is to work together, using clues to solve the mystery and escape! You have 60 minutes to use everything you have learned about attention to detail, reading between the lines and using your creative side — all things that Swarthmore emphasizes, so hopefully you have no trouble escaping. Escape the room has two options: ‘The Office’ and ‘The Dig,’ both for $28 and with a maximum of 10 people.

 

To top off your exhilarating Escape the Room experience, head to Capogiro’s for what has been rated the best gelato in the world — a delicious dessert just under $5.

 

It is easy to feel confined to the Swarthmore campus to save money, but the experiences and subsequent growth as a person through new experiences is incomparable, and worth every trip into a new place or city. Feel free to reach out to me for any other recommendations on a budget!

 

 

Settling up at the bar while wrestling with gender dynamics

in Campus Journal/Columns/London Calling by

A couple summers ago, I was in a bar back home, taking advantage of a rare lower level smoking lounge, when I was approached by some boy who asked me in bad French for a lighter (“un lumière,” to be precise). Once he fell back into English, I learned that he was a “rising freshman” at Oberlin, that he was terribly bored at this bar with his friends, and would only be in Paris for a couple more days. Let’s call him Richard. Suddenly he turned to me and, with a look that spoke volumes, tried the following line on me:

“I’m so pissed off. My dad only gave me €200 bills and the barman won’t take them. I need to find someone to buy me a drink. Surely, somebody here will buy me a drink?”

I sipped on my vodka-cranberry and tried to avoid his gaze. A vodka-cranberry, may I add, which cost me an arm and a leg, so I wasn’t going to facilitate Richard getting away with a five finger discount. I never discovered whether Richard found a way around his €200 bill: we made plans to explore the city together the next day, but he cancelled for no good reason. He was cute, albeit an asshole, and I was bored enough that I didn’t really question the morals behind going on a date with him. In retrospect, I hadn’t fully grasped the terms of the exchange: €10 in booze would have gotten me a few hours the next day. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but as I revisit the memory I ask myself: do all dates have an hourly rate?

Of course, in many ways this money was just a symbolic gesture: a token gift that would have marked my interest. As foreign as this seems to me, it’s entirely possible, and even likely, that our plans to meet up seemed meaningless in the face of that initial rejection. Through a coincidental series of mutual friends, I’ve learned he describes the experience as “that time I got rejected by some guy in Paris.” A stiff drink must never have tasted so bitter (although I’ve heard pineapple juice helps).

Richard’s expectation also had logical inconsistencies. Straight stereotypes always loom somewhere in the back of my mind, regardless of how much I try to distance myself from them, and in this case they don’t really fit with what happened. I imagine a scene in a bar where a mediocre, slightly insecure dude will accost a woman who doesn’t have the time of day and offer her a drink in the hope of some repayment later on in the evening. What norm was Richard playing into that would justify him prancing over to me and demanding an old fashioned pick-me-up? I’d be disappointed if queering the hegemony really comes down to asking strangers for overpriced liquor.

This brings me back to my initial question: why was I expected to pay for this first drink? What made me the employer in this exchange of services? To me, there’s a certain amount of entitlement in his assumption that his services would be welcome. He made it very easy to build a negative stereotype of him: rich bitch abroad, fresh off the jet, is outraged to learn that Paris does not, in fact, pour itself all over him. However, I don’t think this experience can necessarily generalize to too wide a population because Richard, as we established, was a bit of a dick.

This situation should hit closer to home. I’ve noticed a contrast in my friends at Swarthmore between those who do and don’t treat on dates. Do you ask to split-fare the Uber ride to Media, or cover it yourself with a wave of the hand? Do you let your partner buy their coffee in Hobbs, or cover them, joking about the extra punch? Of course, everyone’s economic background is different, and there should definitely be a conversation about both parties’ comfort with being treated, and financial situation at large. I still shudder thinking back to a friend of mine who would take his girlfriend to Hobbs, only to watch her not order anything time, after time, after time. This very discussion assumes a certain level of financial comfort: in a situation where both parties can afford whatever good is being provided, what does it mean to cover for the other?

In a relationship that has already been established, the gift can be nothing more than a kind gesture, a treat. I’m more interested in those relationships where dynamics haven’t fully formed, where the dynamics remain raw. As mentioned, straight stereotypes lurk in the back of my mind, and a reason I’ve tried so hard to distance myself from them (to be more queer, less binaristic) is because I’ve realised many of the ways in which they used to govern my behaviour. The twinky gay, this slender, effeminate, scantily clad faerie that flutters his wings and eyelids at the men in the room, is a character I fell into regularly in high school. It was comfortable and easy: if I wasn’t a normal boy, I’d be a girly one. And now, for my reveal, I must say that I, too, would years ago lurk in bars waiting for men to buy me drinks — I know, the shock of it all is just too much. I’d lounge outside chaining cigarettes in rolled up denims, waiting to be hit on for the thrill, for the comfort, for the acknowledgement. A drink would equal a validation of the performance, and my self esteem was half-off on Wednesdays’ two-for-one night. I digress out of nostalgia, but the point remains that I firmly believe that money, in these situations, can be a gendering and categorizing force. The norm is never that far off, and abiding to a set of rules you remember from some TV show you’ve forgotten the name of provides a certain comfort. In this sense, to pay for a drink can be one of those little actions that, if you do it enough times, materializes the very social norm it’s come to represent. Richard must have pegged me wrong: maybe, deep down, we’re just the same kind of kid, looking for that same reassurance only strangers can provide, just a couple years apart. Could I have been… too harsh?

I’m probably just rambling. Richard was definitely a dick anyways.

 

Scorecard presents misleading financial data

in Campus Journal by

On September 12, the U.S. Department of Education released its new College Scorecard, a website that President Obama introduced as a way for students and families to compare how much alumni of different schools earn, their levels of debt, and how easily the average graduate can pay off their loans. Although the scorecard was introduced as more than a ranking system, comparing Swarthmore’s data to those of other schools seemed to be all that students at the college were interested in. The statistic that was the source of the most concern and discussion was the school’s standing on the “Salary After Attending” category, for which Swarthmore’s average was $49,400 — the lowest number in the tri-co, and a number much lower than that of Williams, Amherst, and every Ivy League school. While at first glance this may seem cause for alarm, the statistic is actually easily explained — and, in a way, contradicted — with a little further research.

A set of data from PayScale, a website devoted to research and data collection on human capital, and a compilation of salary information from the Wall Street Journal paint a much more encouraging picture of Swarthmore alumni earnings, with rankings much higher than implied by the College Scorecard information. Much of these seemingly contradictory data can be explained by simply examining how the U.S. Department of Education collected its information. While the category is titled simply “Salary after Attending,” the Scorecard explains that the data is gathered only 10 years after entering the college, which for most students is maximum of 6 years after graduation, a time when a large proportion of Swarthmore grads are still in graduate school, earning little to no income.

PayScale ranked Swarthmore as the liberal arts college with the ninth highest paid graduates, ranked behind a few private schools and several U.S. Military and Air Force schools. On a list of all 1,034 schools, Swarthmore was tied for 32nd with Cornell, a university that ranks much higher in the Department of Education’s scorecard in the “Salary after Attending” category. According to Payscale, Swarthmore grads are paid overall higher salaries than graduates from Yale, Brown, Columbia and Northwestern, schools that also were ranked higher on the scorecard for having higher-paid grads 10 years after entering college.

The Wall Street Journal’s data support those of the College Scorecard, noting that Swarthmore graduates have a starting median salary of $49,700—the 59th highest on the WSJ’s list. However, what the Journal’s data also show that the Scorecard’s do not is that, by mid-career, alumni have a median salary of $104,000, the 30th highest number on the list. (For reference, Dartmouth is first, with a mid-career median salary of $134,000. Half the schools on the list ranked above Swarthmore have median salaries below $110,000.) For the 75th percentile of mid-career salaries, Swarthmore ranked 10th, with 25 percent of graduates earning an annual salary of at least $167,000.

According to data on Swarthmore’s Career Services website, 75-90 percent of students plan on entering graduate school within five years of graduation, but only 18 percent plan on doing so directly after leaving Swarthmore. (According to the Williams College Record, their number of students who plan on matriculating within five years is 68 percent.) If a student is planning on pursuing a master’s degree, which accounts for 31 percent of students who enter graduate school directly after leaving the college, then they will be earning a fairly representative salary by the time the College Scorecard data is taken. However, this is not the case for most students.

The gap between the approximately 85 percent of students who plan on pursuing graduate school within 5 years and the 21 percent who plan on entering the year after they graduate implies that a large number of Swarthmore students enter graduate school more than one year after leaving Swarthmore. This is echoed in the difference between the 9.5 percent of students who enter Ph.D. programs directly after leaving Swarthmore and the 19.9 percent of Swarthmore students who eventually end up completing these programs — the third highest percentage in the nation — which last an average of over 8 years.

In fact, there is a large difference between the number of students who express interest, or who actually end up enrolling, in a certain graduate program or field, and how many matriculate the year after graduating. While 11 percent of Swarthmore alumni are employed in the field of law, only 2.5 percent enter law school directly after graduating. Although the 11 percent of Swarthmore alumni who work in healthcare is a smaller percentage than the 20-25 percent who express interest in enrolling in medical school, the amount is much higher than the 2 percent of students who enter medical school the year after they graduate.

Not only does some extra research begin to account for the relatively low “salary after attending”— students who enter grad school earn more money, but students who enter grad school years after graduating college earn more money later — but also helps to explain why only two thirds of Swarthmore students are making more than people working with only a high school diploma, another piece of data from the College Scorecard. Six years after graduating, many Swarthmore students are either not working for pay or are earning only stipends, are earning nominal salaries before they complete their graduate programs, or have only just started their graduate programs, which for students who are going beyond a Master’s can take anywhere from 3 years to longer than 10 to complete.

               Overall, the data seem to suggest that Swarthmore students take more time than students at many schools to start earning high salaries, but that they don’t ultimately earn less. It seems that this is in large part due to both Swarthmore students’ high likelihood to attend graduate school, and particularly to enter programs that take a long time to complete. However, this is largely speculative: there are other aspects that could explain these numbers that we do not have access to, and the information that is available leaves many questions unanswered. What we can be sure of, however, is that later in their careers, Swarthmore students’ salaries come out on top of those of alumni from many other schools where students earn high incomes right after graduation. While this apparent trend might not ease concerns of students who need higher incomes directly after graduation to begin to pay off loans or for other reasons, the College Scorecard also points out that of the 26 percent of Swarthmore undergraduates who take out federal loans, 96 percent of students are able to start paying down their debts within 3 years of leaving school. So although numbers from the College Scorecard might be cause for concern for some Swatties, at a second glance it certainly seems that financially, Swarthmore grads are doing just fine.

Kristin Moore brings warm approach to financial aid office

in Campus Journal/Uncategorized by

As Associate Director of Financial Aid Kristin Moore worked on her usual tasks of reading files and responding to emails, a student came in and asked for help finding a job. After she talked to him and called the office he was interested in, he walked out with an interview scheduled for the next day. Another student stopped by later in the day to talk about her summer class choices and how to save money.

“I love the students,” Moore said. “I met the students on the first day and I thought, ‘You are intelligent beyond belief, and driven, and quirky, and funny,’ and I loved it.”

 

Moore’s close relationships with many students is reflected on the bulletin board behind her desk, covered with postcards from all over the world. Though as a student athlete she couldn’t study abroad in college, Moore relishes the postcards she receives from students whom she helped to study abroad. One of the postcards shows llamas from Peru, another lions in Tanzania, drinking water with their mouths covered in blood.

 

“I’m never going to go to the Sudan and fight for women’s rights. I’m not going to go to India and proclaim that education should be equitable among the genders,” she said. “But I get to sit behind this tiny little desk and help you, as a student, get this amazing opportunity.”

She also puts up thank you notes from families and even some from students who chose not to attend Swarthmore. She stays in touch with some of these students and answers any questions they might have as they adjust to college.

“If I have a bad day or have a moment when I can’t give the family the exact news that they want, I can still have confidence in our process,” Moore said. “And I have faith that, thoughtfully, we have made decisions and unfortunately, this isn’t the best for this family. But I still know more than not, I do a lot of good.”

As part of her usual responsibilities, Moore handles students and prospective students with last names H through O, reading their files to determine aid and helping them navigate the aid application process. In addition, she works with the College Access Center to help local high school students understand the financial aid process.

“I just try to highlight that the process is doable and that this shouldn’t be an inhibitor in going to college,” she said. “This should be the last thing that stops you.”

Before she started working at Swarthmore, Moore attended St. Francis University and Indiana University of Pennsylvania for graduate school. At IUP, she had the opportunity to work at the financial aid office, where she became familiar with the process.

“When I stuck my hand in it in grad school, I got a real sense of what I could do that didn’t happen for me,” Moore said. “As grateful as I am for my opportunities and the way things worked out, I really felt like I could use what I had learned and where I had come from to help students on a very simple level.”

After majoring in psychology and receiving a master’s degree in Student Affairs in Higher Education, she was hired at Swarthmore in 2002 because of her humanistic approach.

“It was really thrilling for me to be able to see where I came from, this small town, and yet I help give out millions and millions in scholarship every year. Over the 13 years, I would love to know how much scholarship I’ve helped to give out to students.”

Moore also said she likes how much freedom she has to support students instead of having to do strictly paperwork.

 

Moore added that she wants students to be financially informed and empowered when they leave Swarthmore. She typically sees two to five students a day and helps them with whatever they need, including finding a job, taking care of student loan payments, and saving for study abroad in advance.

Moore said she only accepts social media friend requests once students graduate and often stays in touch with them. When alumni come to visit her on campus, she likes to have lunch with them and catch up. Because she used to offer to buy them apple juice in case they didn’t like coffee, some of these students like to make fun of her, she said.

“The joke is that these alumni will come in and say, ‘I’ll take you to the coffee bar, but I won’t buy you coffee, I’ll buy you apple juice,’” Moore said.

Moore also said that she loves the campus, the administration, and the people she works with.

“There’s not much about this job that I don’t like, let’s put it that way,” she said.

Before she came to Swarthmore, Moore spent most of her life in Johnstown in Western Pennsylvania, a small rural town around four and a half hours away. She describes her hometown as a simple, conservative place that people call “Pennsyltucky,” a term that combines Pennsylvania and Kentucky.

“I didn’t come to Swarthmore [as a student]. Believe me, it would have been way too much as an 18, 19, 20-year-old. But as a young adult, [working at Swarthmore] gave me a lot of intellectual freedom that I didn’t have elsewhere,” she said. “I very much respect my parents, and I don’t at all fault them for their beliefs or their judgements, but I get to be here and choose differently.”

Moore has a younger brother back home and a younger sister in Pittsburgh she texts frequently.

“I miss my family, but you guys are kind of my family, if that makes any sense. And I get to know your families, your whole family story,” she said. “I feel like I have families here and families there.”

Outside of her work, Moore enjoys hiking, going into the city and playing volleyball and softball as part of social leagues in Philadelphia. She has two foster dogs, Rookie and Booker, that like to hang out in her office.

“I’m known as the crazy dog lady… Students will just stop in and say, ‘do you have a dog today?’ and I love that,” Moore said. “This isn’t the financial aid evil office. It’s just another everyday office. Just stop in and say hello.”

Students put financial literacy to use in volunteer work

in Campus Journal by

Juniors Jake Moon and Tessa Rhinehart spend their free time doing other people’s taxes. The two, along with other members of the Swarthmore Volunteer Income Tax Assistance club, go into neighboring towns to help low-income residents fill out their tax forms and reduce their tax rates. Through this volunteer experience, students get the opportunity to give back to the community and learn a valuable life skill.

An IRS sponsored program, VITA provides free service to families and individuals in Chester, Holmes, Darby, Upper Darby, and Borough. The group recommends programs to their clients according to their needs. For families below a certain income, the group can help clients receive tax credit and even refunds.

“Most of the people who we provide our services to are elderly, and they can’t really do the taxes themselves with something like Turbo Tax,” Moon said. He asserts that there are many advantages to choosing VITA over an online service; families they assist receive individualized help from a real person rather than a computer. “There are some tax services that lie and say they can give you a reduction in tax rates and they just scam you off of money. By having students do it who have no incentive to take their money we can honestly give them the right amount.”

 

In the spring semester of 2014 alone, VITA saved residents in Delaware County over a million dollars in income tax. According to Rhinehart, the group returns around $3.5 million each year depending on the number of volunteers participating.

 

Rhinehart is a social coordinator for the group, and says she got involved in the organization at the activities fair during the beginning of her freshman year. “At the time, I had no idea how to prepare taxes, but I learned how to prepare taxes through participating in VITA,” Rhinehart said. All members of the group are trained in tax preparation and are required to complete the IRS certification process before they can begin volunteering.

 

Moon says one of the most rewarding experiences he has had in the group was helping an elderly woman who initially doubted the group because of their age and experience. “I had an old lady who was a little difficult to deal with because she didn’t entirely trust us; we’re students and we look like students. Through our procedures I gradually gained her trust and she came out really happy with our work. She really thanked us in the end. It was just a little success that I found very gratifying,” Moon said. “You hear a lot of our volunteers talk about stories where there’s a little suspicion in the beginning but then they open up.”

 

Rhinehart says going through the tax preparation process is both a very personal and rewarding process. “You learn a surprising amount about a person’s life: their children, their spouse, glimpses of what their lives are like at home and at work. Interacting with those whose taxes I prepare is definitely my favorite part of VITA.”

Joining the group provides students with valuable volunteer experience and real life skills. “You can learn more about tax code and more of how federal public services work. It’s also a good resume builder if you really want to be career oriented,” Moon said.

 

While the group does not provide tax services to other Swarthmore students, all students are welcome to join the group and learn the skills themselves, while also providing a needed service to members of the greater community.

 

“VITA is definitely a two-way street,” Rhinehart said. “On one hand, Swarthmore VITA makes a big impact on the community of Delaware County. But it also provides an important alternative to tax preparers that require a fee for tax preparation, and its volunteers are specially trained to look for tax opportunities likely to benefit low-income or elderly people. We are conscious of how much we, as volunteers, also learn and grow from VITA.”

Students seek myriad of job experiences

in Campus Journal by

On September 12, the U.S. Department of Education released its new College Scorecard, a website that President Obama introduced as a way for students and families to compare how much alumni of different schools earn, their levels of debt, and how easily the average graduate can pay off their loans. Although the scorecard was introduced as more than a ranking system, comparing Swarthmore’s data to those of other schools seemed to be all that students at the college were interested in. The statistic that was the source of the most concern and discussion was the school’s standing on the “Salary After Attending” category, for which Swarthmore’s average was $49,400 — the lowest number in the tri-co, and a number much lower than that of Williams, Amherst, and every Ivy League school. While at first glance this may seem cause for alarm, the statistic is actually easily explained — and, in a way, contradicted — with a little further research.

A set of data from PayScale, a website devoted to research and data collection on human capital, and a compilation of salary information from the Wall Street Journal paint a much more encouraging picture of Swarthmore alumni earnings, with rankings much higher than implied by the College Scorecard information. Much of these seemingly contradictory data can be explained by simply examining how the U.S. Department of Education collected its information. While the category is titled simply “Salary after Attending,” the Scorecard explains that the data is gathered only 10 years after entering the college, which for most students is maximum of 6 years after graduation, a time when a large proportion of Swarthmore grads are still in graduate school, earning little to no income.

PayScale ranked Swarthmore as the liberal arts college with the ninth highest paid graduates, ranked behind a few private schools and several U.S. Military and Air Force schools. On a list of all 1,034 schools, Swarthmore was tied for 32nd with Cornell, a university that ranks much higher in the Department of Education’s scorecard in the “Salary after Attending” category. According to Payscale, Swarthmore grads are paid overall higher salaries than graduates from Yale, Brown, Columbia and Northwestern, schools that also were ranked higher on the scorecard for having higher-paid grads 10 years after entering college.

The Wall Street Journal’s data support those of the College Scorecard, noting that Swarthmore graduates have a starting median salary of $49,700—the 59th highest on the WSJ’s list. However, what the Journal’s data also show that the Scorecard’s do not is that, by mid-career, alumni have a median salary of $104,000, the 30th highest number on the list. (For reference, Dartmouth is first, with a mid-career median salary of $134,000. Half the schools on the list ranked above Swarthmore have median salaries below $110,000.) For the 75th percentile of mid-career salaries, Swarthmore ranked 10th, with 25 percent of graduates earning an annual salary of at least $167,000.

According to data on Swarthmore’s Career Services website, 75-90 percent of students plan on entering graduate school within five years of graduation, but only 18 percent plan on doing so directly after leaving Swarthmore. (According to the Williams College Record, their number of students who plan on matriculating within five years is 68 percent.) If a student is planning on pursuing a master’s degree, which accounts for 31 percent of students who enter graduate school directly after leaving the college, then they will be earning a fairly representative salary by the time the College Scorecard data is taken. However, this is not the case for most students.

The gap between the approximately 85 percent of students who plan on pursuing graduate school within 5 years and the 21 percent who plan on entering the year after they graduate implies that a large number of Swarthmore students enter graduate school more than one year after leaving Swarthmore. This is echoed in the difference between the 9.5 percent of students who enter Ph.D. programs directly after leaving Swarthmore and the 19.9 percent of Swarthmore students who eventually end up completing these programs — the third highest percentage in the nation — which last an average of over 8 years.

In fact, there is a large difference between the number of students who express interest, or who actually end up enrolling, in a certain graduate program or field, and how many matriculate the year after graduating. While 11 percent of Swarthmore alumni are employed in the field of law, only 2.5 percent enter law school directly after graduating. Although the 11 percent of Swarthmore alumni who work in healthcare is a smaller percentage than the 20-25 percent who express interest in enrolling in medical school, the amount is much higher than the 2 percent of students who enter medical school the year after they graduate.

Not only does some extra research begin to account for the relatively low “salary after attending”— students who enter grad school earn more money, but students who enter grad school years after graduating college earn more money later — but also helps to explain why only two thirds of Swarthmore students are making more than people working with only a high school diploma, another piece of data from the College Scorecard. Six years after graduating, many Swarthmore students are either not working for pay or are earning only stipends, are earning nominal salaries before they complete their graduate programs, or have only just started their graduate programs, which for students who are going beyond a Master’s can take anywhere from 3 years to longer than 10 to complete.

               Overall, the data seem to suggest that Swarthmore students take more time than students at many schools to start earning high salaries, but that they don’t ultimately earn less. It seems that this is in large part due to both Swarthmore students’ high likelihood to attend graduate school, and particularly to enter programs that take a long time to complete. However, this is largely speculative: there are other aspects that could explain these numbers that we do not have access to, and the information that is available leaves many questions unanswered. What we can be sure of, however, is that later in their careers, Swarthmore students’ salaries come out on top of those of alumni from many other schools where students earn high incomes right after graduation. While this apparent trend might not ease concerns of students who need higher incomes directly after graduation to begin to pay off loans or for other reasons, the College Scorecard also points out that of the 26 percent of Swarthmore undergraduates who take out federal loans, 96 percent of students are able to start paying down their debts within 3 years of leaving school. So although numbers from the College Scorecard might be cause for concern for some Swatties, at a second glance it certainly seems that financially, Swarthmore grads are doing just fine.

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