Higher Education is NOT “Hire” Education…

This year’s MLA conference was held in LA, and on January 8, a Counter-Conference was held at Loyola Law School, where issues about adjunct faculty labor abuse, graduate student exploitation, and the diminishing quality of higher education were being discussed.  It is not an easy thing, watching a profession and an institution fall apart.  Many of us have stayed for far too long, hoping that we could tough it out, that things would turn around.  But as my blog about emotional abuse says, this is part of the problem.  We stay and stay in an abusive, destructive relationship, developing a kind of magical thinking about ways things are going to get better.

Coming together nationally, discussing the realities of what has happened to academia, is both heart-breaking and life-affirming.  We’re not crazy.  We aren’t imagining this.  We aren’t wrong.  We are well-educated, qualified and experienced professors, whose experiences and abilities could successfully lead future generations through higher learning.  But we have been reduced to part-time, low-wage contract workers in a system that cares little about higher learning. And the losses are huge. Past blogs have talked a lot about the plight of the faculty.  We already know that we are living below the poverty wage rate, using food stamps, risking homelessness.  A new study released just a few days ago makes that painfully clear.  A report just released in regard to the extreme pay inequality  in Pennsylvania higher education faculty salaries shows it clearly.  Maybe now the legislators will begin to pay attention to an atrociously under-reported situation of labor abuse.  Maybe they will begin to connect the dots, FINALLY, about the relationship between professional, well-supported faculty and the quality of what higher education is meant to provide to our students, and to the future.

Attendants at the conference talked about the need to return living wages and full time job status to university faculty. But another serious concern is the plight of the students caused by lack of faculty guidance, and outrageous increases in tuition.  They are not being educated; they are being driven into debt; they are being lied to.

Higher education has somehow become “hire” education, with the value of college attendance now being reduced to the formula of “go to college, get a better job”.  It’s job training in a jobless nation.

Michael Snyder of The Business Insider lays it out in terrifying statistics in his article, “16 Shocking Facts About Student Debt And The Great College Education Scam.”

Some of the terrifying facts:  Our students are facing $875 billion in student loans, and that goes up $2,853.88 per second.  Since 1982, tuition has gone up 400%, requiring a much higher amount of student loans.  And how will they pay it all back?  Nearly 10% of graduates under 25 years old are unemployed; that’s about 2 million unemployed graduates.  Those who are employed are working service jobs, retail jobs — minimum wage jobs that they could have gotten without going to college. We’re counting 17 million underemployed graduates — a number that has more than tripled in 15 years. In fact, most of those students are probably hanging on to the jobs they had while they were IN college.  85% of these graduates are now moving back home with their families, because they can’t possibly afford to do anything else.  While I personally don’t have any problem with extended families living together, I am also aware that in the American culture, this is a sign of failure — the expectation is that after graduation from college, you “launch” as an adult.

Kenneth Schortgen, Jr., a professional financial analyst, writes in Examiner.com, and responds to Snyder’s article by asking, “College has become the model and paradigm of a system that thrives off of titles and Degrees, but cares little about education and experience.  With less learning taking place on campus, and the costs becoming more than it would take to purchase a home with no guarantee of a job waiting once you graduate, is it worth your future to be in bondage to student loan debts that may last decades and hinder your ability to have a decent life?”

As an educator who has seen the meltdown as an insider, my answer to my students is, “No.  It isn’t worth it.”  No one should be heading into a college situation on the simple-minded assumption that college = high paying job.  I don’t care how many media outlets still tout that myth, or how many people in your high school counseling office equated college with a better lifestyle, higher income or any other illusory successes.  The fact is that you will be pulled into the debtor nation, as a new generation indentured worker.  If you don’t have a clear reason why you are attending college, and if you are not absolutely sure that you need college in order to get to your end goal, then do NOT go.

I care a lot about my students, and have felt more and more in recent years that the exploitation taking place in this corporatized university system is far-reaching. I don’t want to be part of a system that is not only exploiting me, but is exploiting my students. Finding alternatives to being pulled into such an exploitative system is crucial, and this blog will be investigating that in recent weeks, as the work on the book and documentary Junct: The Trashing of Higher Ed. in America continues.

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3 Responses to Higher Education is NOT “Hire” Education…

  1. recent Ph.D. says:

    I’m with you 100% on this: “I don’t want to be part of a system that is not only exploiting me, but is exploiting my students.” When the anger and frustration I’d been feeling for a while about my own lot became mixed with pity for my students this past fall semester, I left.

    Thank you for all that you’re saying on this blog. It needs to be said and said again.

  2. Anthea says:

    Yes, thank you for posting this piece. I think that the system isn’t just exploring its students, the profs but also the graduate students. There’s just too much debt, too much dispair and too much wasted talent.

    I’d agree with you that that living with one’s parents/extended family is considered a problem since it’s considered part of life and it’s considered normal in many parts of the world. I’d go beyond your statement that its a sign of failure in American culture but also true in the UK and probably in Canada. I don’t think that its possible to believe anymore that one can “launch” anymore..I think that all of us in the English speaking world have to change our ways of thinking about family, life, education and expectations.

  3. drannmaria says:

    Just say no.

    There is the issue of participating in your own exploitation, which some people are doing. I left academia years ago and started a consulting company with two partners. I am teaching one class next semester. I’ve been offered from one-half to one-third of what I’m making at other institutions and turned it down. I miss teaching but not enough to work for wages that are a fraction of what I would be paid for consulting. Someone took those jobs, though.

    When I was in graduate school, I was told I should work “for the experience”. Since I had been a programmer for several years before returning for my Ph.D. I saw no reason to do for free what I had done for a good salary before I started school. I got paid. Other people worked for free for credit, the experience or the right to have their name on publications.

    When selecting a university for my children, I looked at how much they would be taught by full-time faculty and which schools would cost me hundreds of thousands over four years for my children to be taught by people without offices, dashing from one part-time job at one campus to another. Those people might be brilliant and hard-working but they’d do a better job if they had an office and one place to work and office hours and ….

    I’m not one for demonstrating in the streets (although I’m not against that) but I do refuse to support something I believe is wrong.

    Saying it is impossible to launch is just accepting an insane inequality in America. It is not impossible. I have three children in their twenties, all employed and living in their own apartments or houses. They are welcome to live in my home but they don’t NEED to. It doesn’t have to be that way.

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