On Talking to Parents and Students about Debt, Misadministrated Funds, and other College Issues

If you’re a parent or guardian of someone debating or entering into college, I, an adjunct faculty member at a Chicago private, non-profit art school, have a few words of advice and some issues to consider for you and your new students, to accompany the recent article by Joe Fruscione at PBS NewsHour’s Making Sen$s:

Make them think long and hard about whether they’d rather set themselves up a cozy little bunker in case the shit goes down (or they just can’t find full-time work, which is exceedingly likely), or piecemeal work together like a patch on an Ellis Island jacket while owing tens of thousands of dollars. Tell them you aren’t kidding.

Then tell them about principle, interest, and how debt breeds when you go through deferment, forbearance, or default, because the concepts are in a language foreign to them. But the answer is easy, they’ll understand—like rabbits.

To those of you who imagine that faculty earn The Big Bucks, and that’s why tuition is skyrocketing, it’s simply not the case. Over 2/3 of those of us teaching your children are contingents, and of these, most are paid per course, per semester and make no more annually than your school district’s paraprofessionals, minus their benefits. Tuition isn’t funding the faculty or the classroom, but the Asst. Vice Interim Provost-In-Waiting’s perverse dreams of a Triple A bond rating and unrestricted flex funds. Good luck finding the data, though. It’s masked: the Higher Education Price Index from Commonfund Institute, the top manager of educational endowments, eliminates contingent faculty from their data, and US News & World Report fails to present ratios of contingent to full-time faculty for institutions (nevermind that instructional quality has no representation in these tainted reports). And if you think that decreased state funding is the only issue, it’s much more complicated than that, and you can check out the Student Union of Michigan’s blog to understand why a decrease in state funds does not correlate directly to an increase in tuition.

Surely you don’t think that high tuition is just How It Is. Tuition, room, and board at private institutions increased 40% from 2001/2002 to 2011/2012 and 28% for public ones, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Imagine if consumer goods inflated at the same rate. Last April, coffee was on a scarcity list in Venezuela after their consumer goods price index jacked up 59.4% from March 2013 – March 2014. It’s fair to say that higher education is in a crisis that needs intensive rehabilitation, as does our economy (of course). 

So, think of what your grandchildren’s student debt will be, then consider their inability to pay for an education. Think of Venezula’s government implementing rations via a fingerprint security system. Imagine how these scenarios might relate to your childrens’ ability to secure property, a future, raise a family, or do anything but live paycheck to paycheck as an indentured servant to the market.

I want to ask if you’re angry yet, but I won’t. Perhaps you should be. As your first-year student’s adjunct composition professor who’s been mired in the struggle for years, I am. I’m out for vengeance, and I want nothing more than for you and your children to join me. To stir the pot, I will teach them Aristotle’s Rhetoric, which defines anger as “desire, accompanied with pain, for conspicuous revenge for a conspicuous slight that was directed against oneself or those near to one, when such a slight is undeserved.” Higher ed has slighted all of us, we who have done nothing to deserve it. Now on to teaching the rhetoric that they’ll need to fight for a better world, beginning with their colleges.


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