Friday, October 17, 2008

Paying for College

So, I saw this article in the NYT this morning, and it's got me thinking about how the recession/depression/credit crunch/whatever we're calling it today is going to affect students paying for college. I'll admit, I'd not really given it a whole lot of thought in large part because of the students that I teach and their typical financial situations as they relate to the cost of attending my uni.

See, my student population is not one that typically relies on "college money" put aside by their parents to pay for their educations. Most of my students do not live on campus (no room/board costs), work full time or close to it, and don't rely on parents to take out loans for them or to give them tuition money (many of my students have parents who think that they should foot the bill once they turn 18, regardless of the fact that financial aid calculations typically include parents' income for traditional-aged students). Even the students who do live on campus typically are responsible for paying a good chunk of their way. And a lot of students are returning students with families of their own, so it's really their husbands/wives who are helping to foot the bill for college, or they're going to school on the GI Bill or whatever. So reading that article was a bit like reading about aliens from another planet.

This is not to say that financial aid isn't part of the equation at my university - it most definitely is - but let's just say that students who have chosen my university typically have done so with affordability as a primary motivation. We've got the lowest tuition in the state system, even with recent increases, and we don't depend much on endowment money because we are a university without much of an endowment.

What I suspect is that there will be pressure on financial aid because of an increased number of requests - not from current students but from students who want to transfer in because they can't afford to go to whatever college they've been attending and from students who decide to attend here who otherwise would have gone elsewhere. However, I also know that we have a huge space problem on campus, and this is going to limit the amount that enrollment can increase over the next five years, given the state's slashing of our budget. In a weird way, I think that one result of the financial crisis will actually be in upping the standards for who gets admitted here, just because we won't be able to admit every person who wants to come unless we get a major influx of cash for a new academic building or five.

But so back to the article. What struck me most about the article is, with all of that in mind, how foreign what it describes is to my own and to my students' experiences in higher ed. And I suppose this goes back to a post I did a long while back about the fact that "college" does not mean the same thing for all people. The fact of the matter is that the people that this financial mess is going to hit hardest are not my kind of people - people who don't have money put aside for college or people who fully expect to work their way through college because otherwise they can't afford to go - but rather the kind of people to whom a "college education" has seemed like a birthright, like something that parents "owe" their children and are obligated to provide for them. And if we take this in the context of the current political rhetoric about higher education, it's that second group of people who promise to be disappointed by whatever either candidate comes up with, because the fact of the matter is that the landscape of what solidly middle-class parents can do for their children in terms of education has changed (for the worse), and I'm very skeptical about the possibility that the federal government can do much to make a difference in that. Finally, I wonder how or if this is going to change discourses that have cropped up about "millenials" and their sense of entitlement, their need to be babied, etc., which I've always felt didn't really reflect the students that I encounter on a daily basis. Perhaps as the burden on students to finance their own educations increases, discourses about what these students are - and, in fact, who the students actually are - will change?

I don't know. My thoughts are fairly fuzzy about all of this, but these are the things that the article got me thinking about. And finally, that quotation with which the article ends - that student who says, "I’m pretty sure something will work out for me”? My students might not be the brightest bulbs in the chandelier in a lot of ways, but I'd venture the speculation that very few of them believe that things will just work out for them. Nah, they typically think that things won't work out, most of the time, and that if things do work out it's because they've busted their asses to make that happen.


Anonymous said...

"many of my students have parents who think that they should foot the bill once they turn 18, regardless of the fact that financial aid calculations typically include parents' income for traditional-aged students"

this = me weeping in financial aid every semester. I hate that rule.

Dr. Crazy said...

I hear you on that, A. This wasn't my position because when I was in college my mom and stepdad weren't married, and my mom on her own didn't make enough (or have enough saved, and she rented) to screw up my aid. That rule always strikes me as one that happened because people who could afford to pay for their kids to go to school were scamming the system. The intent, I think, is that it would mean people who really were in need would get the money, but I think a lot of class-based assumptions about parenting and support for children go into that rule - and this means that a lot of students who really do need the aid have to fight for it, which sucks.

Doctor Pion said...

That was quite the article. I sure hope that those two kids are getting a quarter million worth of education, since they could have gotten the same at Indiana U for half of that (and hence no loans given the info in the article) by splitting the cost with the taxpayers. I mean, their parents paid taxes for the state university system, so why throw that money away? That question never got asked in the article.

I'd also love to know what majors those kids are in, and see a followup a few years from now on how that choice of college paid off in terms of the income needed to pay off those loans they got.

Yeah, it is a different universe. My CC students probably can't even comprehend spending $34,000 a year on school.

But at least everyone they talked to appears to be making suitable progress toward a degree in 4 years, rather than blowing off 30 grand and going home to a CC to make up for a year spent drinking. An example of the latter would have made for really interesting reading.

Bardiac said...

Thought provoking, thanks.

I think most of my students think things will work out. They tend to think that there really IS a meritocracy, and that they have the merit. They seem to be in a weird place where they know there's poverty, but blame it on the poor, and they really don't realize what wealth and privilege are, because they've never seen those except on TV. But they can't quite believe that anyone can afford 30k tuition.

Tamina said...

Check out Rate Your Students:
And the post:Flummoxed Francis Wants Some Blog-spective About Academic Bloggers Who Blog On Fringe (and Furry) Subjects

Seems like someone is talking about you....

Dr. Crazy said...

Indeed, they are at the very least quoting from me. Without a link, because god forbid they cite what they quote. At any rate, I feel like people who read the blog either get that this is not a professional "academic" space or they don't. I'm an academic, and I sometimes write about academic subjects, but I also sometimes write about things just for fun. Lots of readers seem to enjoy the (infrequent) posts about the cats - indeed, I think the last one I did of this variety was in August - and I enjoy writing them. If this were a person in my department (and I don't think it is, but I suppose one never knows), they would know that I take my work seriously and my cv backs that up. If people've got a problem with me having a little fun on a blog that's not listed on my cv or in any way connected to my institution, well, I feel like that's kind of not my problem. Just because I'm a professor doesn't mean that I can't have some fun. Or if it does mean that, I'm thinking that perhaps this is a really stuffy and horrible line of work.

flacius1551 said...

If the market for low-paid services (fast-food, retail salespeople, part-time clerical workers, waitresses) goes to heck because of the economy, the student loan issue won#t matter to your students, because they will get hit on the front end. No jobs.

Doctor Pion said...

Thanks for that pointer, Tamina, so I could see a blog version of petty academic politics. Hey, our pet birds think cats are evil spawn of Satan, but I once (no, twice) rented a house from a cat (seriously, now I'm going to have blog about that someday) so I can relate to Crazy's stories. But they hardly dominate this blog!

Besides, Crazy, I read those few articles of yours as a great exercise in creative writing.

Now it is time to link out of this article and add my two cents to your comments about the student budgets that the NYTimes has no clue about, at all.

PS - Did I mention that I am finally done grading?