Kindly Explain This

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We pack suitcases and luggage racks, getting ready for fall on America’s campuses. Time to reflect and take stock. Somebody’s doing some self-wounding here. Friends help friends with interventions, before addiction wins out.

Maybe you’ve heard that there is student debt in the United States. Intellectuals say there may be a political solution to this. Yes, and Saturn’s moon Titan may have life that breathes nitrogen instead of oxygen. It’s possible.

Debt is the symptom of a calamity, but cost is the cause. The twirly-moustache types setting the prices don’t even bother hiding behind grass stalks. Why should they, if no one is looking. One day, someone will ask, “What were you doing during the academic wars?” Somebody help me understand, meanwhile, why college students and their parents are not out there with pitchforks.

Just some basic stats, in case you didn’t know about this:

-Over half (some say 75%) of college courses are taught by adjuncts. (Nothing against adjuncts! Bear with me…)

-Adjuncts earn $2-3000 per semester course. (Nothing unfair about this! If someone wants to sell a new Tesla for 2.5 bananas, no one should stand in the way)

-College tuition has increased by four percent compounded, since 1995.

-The average tuition and fees at private national universities rose during that period by 179 percent.

-Out-of-state tuition and fees at public universities rose 226 percent.

-In-state tuition and fees at public national universities increased 296 percent.[1]

The U.S. Government Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that for 2015, college and university administrators earned a median pay of $88,580 per year, while instructors earned twenty percent less. By the way, instructors are outnumbered by administrators three to two. Administrative positions on campus grew 60 per cent 1993 to 2009, ten times more than tenured faculty positions.[2]

What do administrators do on college campuses? Don’t take my word for it, read the profile by the BLS:

-Decide if potential students should be admitted to the school;

-Schedule and register students for classes;

-Schedule space and times for classes;

-Ensure that students meet graduation requirements;

-Plan commencement ceremonies;

-Prepare transcripts and diplomas for students;

-Produce data about students and classes;

-Maintain the academic records of the institution;

-Advise students on topics such as housing issues, personal problems, or academics;

-Communicate with parents or guardians;

-Create, support, and assess nonacademic programs for students;

-Schedule programs and services, such as athletic events or recreational activities.

Catch-and-release programs recruit a maximum number of applicants, so as to increase the number of rejected freshmen. (Recruiters are well paid to jack up these numbers.) This raises the college rankings in the U.S. News and World Report.

Instructors, by contrast, instruct.

Crunch, then, some numbers creatively but accurately. In a private university, students pay up to $2000 per credit hour, or $6000 per typical three-hour course. So, at 25 students per class section, the university takes in, say, $150,000 per course section. The instructor, usually an adjunct, gets $2-3000 of the $150,000, or can otherwise volunteer the time instead, to maintain some dignity.

You may spend four years and earn a bachelor’s degree. If you have unpaid bills, you will march at graduation with cap and gown, and receive an empty folder on stage, with the B.A. available to you only after the bills are paid. In this case, you have earned, but do not have, a bachelor’s degree.

Unpaid college loans are not be factored into bankruptcies. Often, holders of private loans cannot afford to serve in the Peace Corps, since repayment rates are not adjusted to income.

Books and articles have chronicled these events over the past twenty years; some intellectuals manage even now, not to be aware of them, or to attribute them to “the cultural issues of those who cannot pay.”

We are all complicit; collectively, we’ve lost control.

Citing these figures is sometimes wrongly interpreted as bellyaching on the part of underpaid instructors. That is a diversion. The real victims are students, who are told they will get nowhere without the BA. The parents, similarly, are terrified that others’ children may get the advantage over their own. Conservative commercial weekly Forbes says that, even so, sixty percent of college graduates today do not find work in their field.

The moneylenders in these schemes will carry on as long as permitted, maybe not forever. If you didn’t have available the facts above, then shame on the instigators and their boards of directors. If you did, and accepted them, then shame on you. There would be a third option, but so far the fearful crawl into the bushes. As we know, when running with a friend from an attacking bear, you need not run fast. Just faster than your friend.


[1] source: U.S. News and World Report. See other sources for comparables, if you want.

[2] source: U.S. Department of Education.


Dan Whitman teaches Foreign Policy at the Washington Semester Program, American University. As Public Diplomacy officer in USIA and the Department of State for more than 25 years, he drafted and edited speeches for U.S. ambassadors in Denmark, Spain, South Africa, Cameroon, Haiti, and Guinea-Conakry. A senior Foreign Service Officer, he retired in 2009 from the Bureau of African Affairs, U.S. Department of State.

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