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Lessons From The Recession In The Classroom

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Lessons From The Recession In The Classroom

Lessons From The Recession In The Classroom

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Now we'll hear from NPR's David Greene. He's criss-crossing America during President Obama's first 100 days to bring you stories of the recession. Along the way, David's met several college professors who've seen the economic downturn in their classrooms.

DAVID GREENE: As I got back on the road last week and headed out of New York, into the Pocono Mountains, I was thinking back to some of the voices I've heard so far. One was the voice of Jelani Cobb.

We met a few weeks ago at a restaurant down in Atlanta. Cobb teaches at Spelman, an historically black women's college. And he told me he's had students drop out because they can no longer afford tuition.

Professor JELANI COBB (Spelman College): It's one thing, I guess, if we hear, you know, all kinds of economic indicators on the news, and you hear news stories. But then you can actually, tangibly see the impact of the economy when you look at who's in your classroom and who's not.

GREENE: Spelman isn't alone. Many private colleges and universities have seen their enrollment drop in this recession. But then I arrived a few days ago at a public institution in northeast Pennsylvania.

Professor JIM MCANDREW (Economics and Management, Luzerne County Community): My name is Jim McAndrew, and I'm a professor of economics and management here at Luzerne County Community College. And David, I'm very glad that you can here to see us today. I have a very full load. My classes are packed these semesters.

GREENE: I met a professor from Spelman College down in Atlanta, and he'd said that he has actually seen a drop in his classes because students who can't afford college right now. Are you seeing that, or you're seeing different trends?

Prof. MCANDREW: We are a community college, and we are very reasonably priced, and so, no, we've had a huge increase.

GREENE: The increase is not due to a sudden fascination with school. In fact, many of the new students have lost jobs and are turning to Luzerne County Community College to start over.

The school's actually forgiving a semester of tuition for people who are laid off. So now let's think about what this means for Professor McAndrew. He's teaching introductory economics courses at a time when many of his students have lost jobs themselves and are looking to him for answers.

Prof. MCANDREW: Every day, I pretty much have to say, but wait a minute. Here's what it says in the book, but here's what we're actually experiencing. And I attempt to try put it into some sort of context. It's a challenge.

Hi, folks. I'm actually a little bit late getting back to class here…

GREENE: One thing McAndrew has realized, if he wants to keep his classes current, he's got some pretty good guest lecturers sitting at desks right in front of him.

Prof. MCANDREW: It's obviously not going to be a very encouraging time to talk about unemployment this semester. But to try to put a positive spin on it, what can you do in terms of your career plans so you're not part of that statistics, or limit the amount of time that you would part of that statistic?

GREENE: Twenty-five-year-old Randy Deeble is part of that statistic. Professor McAndrew called on him during class.

Mr. RANDY DEEBLE (Student, Luzerne County Community College): Right after high school, I didn't want necessarily to go to college. I jumped into the work force. Probably about a year after high school, I landed a pretty decent job as a welder locally. I worked there for just shy of four years. In January, I got laid off.

GREENE: Deeble loved welding.

Mr. DEEBLE: If I had the chance to go back and they called me back, I'd definitely go.

GREENE: But he's not waiting by the phone. Deeble's decided he wants to be a teacher and a mentor to high school students.

Mr. DEEBLE: And hopefully tell them, get the message across to them, that, you know, you could do the choice to not go to college, but the better choice would be to get some kind of education after high school.

GREENE: Students like Randy Deeble talked about their career plans in class for another 45 minutes or so. Then McAndrew introduced a new class assignment: He wants his students to consider how a recession like this one can alter an entire job market and force people to set different career goals.

Prof. MCANDREW: A couple other announcements that I did not make at the beginning of class. The next…

GREENE: Afterwards, McAndrew walked me around campus. He told me he won't let the recession consume his classes. He's still using the textbook to cover topics like the gross domestic product and the Consumer Price Index. But he also feels like his students these days can learn from one another.

Prof. MCANDREW: You know, there's a sense of reality if you hear a colleague, you hear somebody sitting next to you make comments about their experience -you have a certain empathy for what they're talking about, but as a student you also have a chance to say, well, gee. You know, what can I learn from that? What can I do differently? Or how can I prepare myself in a different way?

GREENE: That's economics Professor Jim McAndrew. This recession has brought him larger classes and a new chapter to teach.

I'm David Greene, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: And you can track David on an interactive map, plus suggest a future destination. Check out npr.org/100days.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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