Indiana State University Newsroom

Conference tackles education of students from poverty

April 22, 2015

Looking at poverty from a broader perspective and breaking through stereotypes offer hope for helping more students from low-income families complete college and break the cycle of poverty.

That's what speakers told more than 170 educators during a statewide conference at Indiana State University.

Dennis Bland has observed poverty as a volunteer and now president of the Center for Leadership Development in Indianapolis while Donna Beegle has lived it, growing up in a family that repeatedly struggled for life's necessities and was often evicted for not paying their rent and ended up living in cars or in the woods.

"Poverty must be viewed more broadly to now include other vital or very important topics that constitute a more accurate, holistic picture of student lack or student poverty," Bland, also chair of the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, said during Friday's conference, hosted by Indiana State's Center for Student Success.

Beegle, author of the 2007 book "See Poverty, Be the Difference," cited the influence of stereotypes in perpetuating poverty. The two were among featured speakers at the conference called "Building Bridges to College Success: Empowering Students from a Background of Poverty."

"The more conscious we are of a poverty in a broader ... context, the more we can begin to analyze and study other vital areas where youth are impoverished but are not getting resources to address this poverty," Bland said.

He listed 15 forms of what he called "The Greater Poverty," including poverty of character and values, poverty of knowing university standards and expectations, poverty of will, of academic ability, of college literacy, social literacy and life skills. Poverty of parenting, responsibility and accountability and of planning, prioritization and pragmatism were also on the list along with poverty of counseling - academic and life counseling, which he said is "so very sorely needed: and needed more than ever."

If a student has no father at home, counsel that student twice a week, Bland advised. And he recommended counseling students from foster homes there times a week.

Then there is the poverty of over-dependency and poverty messaging and its unintended effect.

"I know I'm poor, you know I'm poor, so I'm expecting you to give me something. This is all I know-a check, a voucher a meal," Bland said of over-dependency. "Moreover, I have been so socially conditioned for so long that this is now my right and thus your obligation; and the moment you stop doing it, you are treating me unfairly. How do I help without damaging and enabling?"

Poverty messaging occurs, he explained, occurs when teachers say things like, "Hello, I'd like you to meet our new student - you know he's on free and reduced lunch."

Such repeated messaging, Bland said, leads students to often believe they are incapable of succeeding. He offered suggestions for empowering students from poverty, including character development, building self-esteem, telling students you want them to succeed - and meaning it - and setting high expectations.

He said students from poverty also need "an education on the value of an education" and recommended dramatic changes in college orientation to focus on values and establishing academic accountability partners ahead of time to provide students with as much college empowerment as possible "before the (GPA) meter starts running."

People in poverty tend to experience life as a series of crises, Beegle said, and therefore don't plan ahead. Because people tend to "hang" with those in their own socio-economic groups, those in poverty usually don't know people who have benefitted from education or who even have careers.

She encouraged those who work with the poor to be ready to connect them with other community resources and to make a personal connection with students in order to work effectively with them - a real personal connection, she added, noting students can easily see through an insincere smile.

Both Bland and Beegle overcame obstacles. Bland grew up the son of sharecroppers and was not only the first college graduate in his family, he was the first to complete elementary school. Beegle rose from generational poverty to completing a Ph.D. and now travels the country to help provide educators and others the tools needed to help others succeed.

In addition to faculty and staff from the host campus, more than 50 representatives of other colleges and universities around the state, as well as state education agencies, participated in the conference, hosted by Indiana State and the Lumina Foundation for Education.

Donna Beegle was interviewed for the April 22 broadcast of "All Things Wabash Valley," a weekly public affairs program on WISU-FM 89.7. Listen to the interview here:

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or



Story Highlights

Looking at poverty from a broader perspective and breaking through stereotypes offer hope for helping more students from low-income families complete college and break the cycle of poverty, according to speakers at a conferendce at Indiana State.

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