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.
5 years ago