National / International News
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One sure sign that college application season is in full swing at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, outside of Washington, D.C.: Students are pouring in to the office of CollegeTracks, a program that helps students from low- and moderate-income families navigate the process.
The office is packed with students seeking help, because this generation of high school students has heard over and over again — from their parents, their teachers, their president — that college is a must.
“Nowadays you need a degree to get a good job,” says Daniel Roa, 17.
“It’s kind of something that everyone does now,” says Alexandra Haller, 18.
“That’s the extra step we need to fulfilling what we want to be when we’re older,” says Adam Mungani, 17.
These students — all seniors at Bethesda-Chevy Chase — are part of the first wave of Generation Z. If you haven’t even heard of Gen Z, don’t worry. Neither had they.
“I have no idea what that means,” says Haller, blond with pink lipstick and glasses. “The last generation?”Gen. ZReality 42% expect to work for themselves in their career11% of working Americans are self-employed 36% expect to pay for college mainly with scholarships or grants59% of undergrads received grants in 2011 $100monthly student loan payment most students said was manageable$242average monthly student loan payment 29% consider a $100,000 annual salary rich22% of Americans earn $100,000 or more annually 17% expect to pay for college mainly with student loans67% of undergrads received loans in 2011 Source: Northeastern University
Gen Z, or the iGeneration as some have called it, refers to those born since roughly 1995. These are kids who have never known a world without the Internet and smartphones. And they’re just starting to hit college.
Marketplace teamed up with Northeastern University to survey the latest crop of college-bound teenagers, aged 16 to 19. About two-thirds of them plan to attend at least some college right out of high school.
The big question is how to pay for it. Two-thirds said they were “concerned” about being able to afford college. When I bring up the notion of loans, the students I talk to recoil.
“Last resort,” says Haller.
“It’s not worth the debt,” says Tamara King, 17, who has long hair and braces.
It’s no wonder they’re down on debt. The first wave of Gen Z watched their parents struggle through the recession. They saw older brothers and sisters graduate and not be able to get jobs.
“Didn’t the president just finish paying off his student debt, like, a year ago?” asks King.
Actually, it was like 10 years ago. But still.
“I mean he’s the president,” she says. “In the end, it was a good result, but I wouldn’t want that.”
So where will the money come from? Almost a quarter of the students surveyed said mainly from their parents. More than a third expect grants and academic scholarships to foot most of the bill. That may be unrealistic, says Heather O’Leary, who studies Gen Z as an analyst with the higher ed research and advisory firm Eduventures.
“Our research also has shown that students are expecting an inordinate amount of merit-based and need-based scholarships, even students whose families are coming from very high income levels,” she says.
Colleges are partly to blame for the false expectations, O'Leary says, because they set high tuition prices, then compete for students by offering them discounts in the form of financial aid.
“It also falls to parents who have been telling them from a very early age they’re all very special snowflakes and they should be recognized for that individuality,” she says.
The individuals I talked to don’t expect college to come easy. They plan to work, or to save money by starting at community college. What they do expect, just like most of the kids who took the survey, is for college to prepare them for careers. They want schools to offer courses in entrepreneurship and to build in practical experience through things like internships.
Tiffany King, Tamara’s twin sister, plans to complete as many internships as possible.
“Even if you graduate and you wave around, 'Hey, I got my college degree,' where’s your experience in that field?” King says.
Despite their worries, this is a confident bunch. A striking number of them — 42 percent — plan to work for themselves during their careers. That’s nearly four times the percentage of American workers who are self-employed.
Almost two-thirds expect to be better off financially than their parents. Mungani, the son of Somali immigrants who didn’t go to college, says his generation has time.
“Our economy now will change after we graduate college,” he says. “So just keep your head high and your hopes up that you can get a job.”
Not that these kids have the luxury worry much about life after college.
“I honestly can’t think that far, because I’m worried about getting into college,” says Haller.
Back in 1926 an American named Harvey Firestone cut a deal with the government of Liberia.
The African country, which had been founded in 1847 by freed American slaves, sold Firestone a million acres of land chalk-full of rubber tree plants for just six cents an acre. The deal created the world's largest rubber tree plantation and deeply intertwined Liberia and the Firestone Tire Company. But starting in the late 1980s, the relationship became much more complicated. A series of political uprisings and coups led to the takeover of a large portion of Liberia by infamous warlord Charles Taylor.
“Charles Taylor became the first person since Nazi Germany as a head of state to be convicted of crimes against humanity,” says T. Christian Miller, a ProPublica’s reporter who worked on the documentary “Firestone and the Warlord" with Frontline. The film focuses on a decision Firestone made after Taylor took over: the decision to go back and try to rebuild the plantation.
“This becomes a story about choices,” Miller says. “The choices that a big American corporation faces when it comes into contact with a violent guerrilla leader, which happens all the time.”
The film digs up more than 200 documents that for the first time reveal a deal cut between Firestone and Taylor to bring their business back to Liberia. To many Liberians and even some U.S. diplomats, Miller says, the deal helped fund the warlord’s rampage and reign, thereby leaving the company with blood on its hands. But Firestone insists to this day that it was just conducting business as usual.
“They would deny that,” Miller says. “They were not there to help Charles Taylor fight a war. They were there to run their business. And as part of having to run their business they had to pay taxes to the guy who was in charge. At that time Charles Taylor was in charge.”
It's almost impossible to comparison shop for medical tests and procedures. A crowdsourcing experiment by two NPR member stations in California is aimed at making those numbers less mysterious.