Did the U.S. Dept of Ed mock poor students?

Here's a tip about Twitter for government agencies: It's best to avoid attempts at humor that appear to poke fun at poor people.

The U.S. Department of Education apologized Wednesday for a tweet that was aimed at urging students to fill out applications for financial aid, called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

The problem? The tweet included the text, "If this is you, then you better fill out your FAFSA," accompanied with a photo of a woman and the caption, "Help me. I'm poor."

The tweet was later deleted, although Twitter users have posting screen shots. That sparked an immediate backlash, with Monroe Community College president Anne Kress noting that "everything about this is tone-deaf and just wrong."

While the Department of Education's Federal Student Aid office said it was "very sorry," some are defending the tweet, noting that it was an effort to use a popular meme to engage the agency's target audience -- young would-be students -- on the Internet.

The photo was a screenshot from the popular movie "Bridesmaids," when actress Kristen Wiig's character is drunk and asking a flight attendant if she can remain in first class. The scene has become a popular meme, thanks to GIFs and screen shots of Wiig's sunglasses-wearing character.

But the issue shows the dangers of trying to be funny and culturally relevant, especially when it comes to a hot-button issue such as paying for a college education. With the cost of a college education rising more than 500 percent since 1985, far outpacing the 121 percent gain in the consumer price index, some poor- and middle-income students are finding it tougher than ever to afford college.

On top of that, student debt in the U.S. has swelled to $1.2 trillion, hampering some graduates' chances of buying a house or a car, given their loan repayments.

The tweet was "an ill-conceived attempt at reaching students through social media," a spokeswoman for the Department of Education told Inside Higher Ed. "We are reviewing our process for approving social media content to ensure it reflects the high standards we expect at the U.S. Department of Education."

  • Aimee Picchi

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