Friday, June 29, 2012

"The Ph.D. Now Comes With Food Stamps."

What is college really worth?  A lot of people are asking that question -- and it's the cover story of this month's Utne Reader magazine.

My older son is 30, and my younger is 17. I'm hoping my two sons escape from the consequences of graduating into this terrible economy, which is going to dampen the value of not only a college degree, but of all those graduate degrees parents are paying for (and students are borrowing on) for decades to come.

The companion piece to the Utne Reader cover story is called "The Ph.D. Now Comes With Food Stamps." It highlights the plight of adjunct professors who require food stamps to get by. Melissa Bruninga-Matteau, for example, is a 43-year-old white single mother who teaches two courses in humanities at Yavapai College in Prescott Arizona.

She never expected to be on food stamps. Somehow she imagined her Ph.D. in medieval history was a guaranteed ticket to the middle class. Another college teacher in Florida is married with two kids. He's a graduate student in film studies at Florida State University.

Somehow he hasn't yet processed that a married father of two probably should not be getting an advanced degree in film studies. I'm not sure anybody should, actually.

Utne sees this as a plea for paying college teachers even more (raising tuition prices even higher). I see it as an indictment of colleges making money by enrolling students for whom there is no plausible career path with borrowed government money.

My sons are lucky. We were able to pay for college. By "we" I do not mean just my husband and me, but my husband and me and our parents.

My older son graduated with money in the bank, not debt. He spent years as a starving artist, but once he began to make money, his economic situation was quickly transformed into a situation of building capital, human and otherwise, not paying for his college degrees until he's 40.

I'm pretty sure that if I could not afford to pay for my children's college, I would advise them to live at home, go to community college for two years and then to two years of state school. Pay tuition as you go. Parents don't charge rent. Mom will throw in doing your laundry, no extra charge.

Save the Ivy League dream for graduate school, if you've made the grades to get into an Ivy grad school. (If not, don't go to grad school.)

Since both my husband and I are Yale graduates, it's kind of shocking to me that I think this.

But the truth is that as loans have become available and every teen is encouraged to borrow money and go to college, the costs of college have skyrocketed out of proportion to the reasonable return.

The average cost of room, board and tuition at a public university is seven times what it was when I went to Yale, according to Utne Reader.

Yes, a college degree is "worth it" in general terms.  It's just not worth going $50,000 into debt at the age of 22 to achieve.

There's got to be a better way.  The culture of debt being created for college grads will affect them for years to come.

Colleges have become complicit in teaching teenagers bad financial lessons that hurt their ability to make it. According to Utne Reader, at least 700 colleges have contracts with banks to market credit cards to students. About nine in 10 students use credit cards to help pay their education expenses. The average college student now has 4.6 credit cards.

I'm 51 years old and I have two.

We are going to see a lot more generational cris de couer, like the hilarious viral YouTube music video "The Ivy League Hustle (I Went to Princeton, B----!)," Overlaying its sexual complaint by elite women about the men they have to date, there is an amazing riff on the anomalous position of the overeducated artist, trying to persuade himself or herself that being economically marginal is a sign of moral superiority.

Borrowing more to pay for colleges that raise their tuition so they can enroll more film studies majors?  That is madness, and it has to stop.


Number of British graduates in menial jobs doubles in five years with 10,000 taking posts that do not require a degree

The number of graduates forced to take menial jobs as cleaners, labourers, shelf stackers and rubbish collectors has almost doubled in five years, figures show.

More than 10,000 university leavers took posts that do not require degrees after graduating in 2010/11.

The number in so-called ‘elementary occupations’ six months after graduating in 2006/7 was just 5,460, according to data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

Other examples in this category include caretakers, road sweepers, street vendors, odd-job workers, shoe cleaners, hotel porters and door-to-door sales people.

The figures also show 720 graduates became process, plant and machine operatives in factories in 2010/11, compared with 595 in 2006/7.

But many more fail to get even menial jobs, with 9 per cent (20,620) assumed to be unemployed six months after completing their degrees in 2010/11. This is around the same proportion as the year before, but the figure stood at 5 per cent in 2006/7.

The statistics will worry parents and students preparing to embark on degree courses this autumn, when tuition fees will rise to as high as £9,000 a year.

Universities have already experienced a 9 per cent drop in applications from UK students amid fears over spiralling levels of debt under the new fees regime.

The HESA figures also show that 20,675 graduates were employed in sales and customer service roles in 2010/11, including sales assistants, caretakers and call centre staff.

Around 47,350 graduates went into ‘associate professional and technical’ jobs, including laboratory technicians, nurses, paramedics, interpreters, police officers and the armed forces.

Overall, around 158,000 people were in some form of employment, either in the UK or abroad, six months after graduating last year, the figures show.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said yesterday: ‘The Government should be doing more to stimulate jobs and growth.

‘While the Prime Minister continues to attack people on benefits, he is doing little to help them get off benefits and on with their lives.’

Universities minister David Willetts insisted that although the job market was challenging, graduates continued to do better than those without a degree.

He said: ‘We must ensure graduates enter the labour market equipped to succeed.’

Meanwhile, a report from the independent market research company High Fliers has warned that graduates are competing for top jobs against a ‘backlog’ of earlier university leavers.

One in three applications for this year’s graduate vacancies are from students who left higher education last year or earlier, it says.


Obnoxious British bureaucracy penalizes good teacher

A dedicated teacher last night claimed her  35-year career was in ruins after she lost her job for handing out her mobile phone number to a schoolgirl who was upset about her sick grandfather.

Heather Wolfson, 56, said she had been using ‘a mother’s instinct’ when she  helped the pupil, adding that political correctness meant teachers were being punished for simply showing compassion and common sense.

The mother of two was suspended from her job last year at Ysgol y Grango, in Rhos, north Wales. The school said  Mrs Wolfson had acted inappropriately by giving the girl  her number when she broke down in tears after her grandfather’s diagnosis with cancer.

The food technology and textiles teacher was also reprimanded for giving her number to a 12-year-old boy and offering to take him home after dark when no-one arrived to collect him from school.

Neither of the children’s parents complained to the school. Instead, a member of staff alerted the headteacher that the girl and boy had the teacher’s phone number.

At a disciplinary hearing Mrs Wolfson, who had been on a fixed-term contract to cover maternity leave, was handed a written warning.  Her contract expired the following day and was not renewed.

The school gave her a basic dated reference, but the experience is proving a blot on an otherwise untainted career.

Mrs Wolfson, from Weston Rhyn, near Oswestry, said she has been struggling to get a job ever since.   ‘I’ve given my life to teaching but now I’ve been rendered unemployable,’ she said. ‘Schools have fallen prey to political correctness and our careers are walking on a tightrope.’

Referring to the incidents with the pupils which triggered her suspension, she said: ‘I was just looking out for them both, it was a mother’s instinct.’ Colin Adkins, of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: ‘Heather’s case is an absolute tragedy.

‘There are no regulations to say teachers can’t text pupils, the communication should simply be appropriate, and it was entirely appropriate in  this case.

‘She was providing pastoral support. There was nothing sinister or untoward going on.’

Amanda Harrison, deputy head of Ysgol y Grango, said the matter had been resolved, adding: ‘It would be inappropriate to comment further.’  Wrexham Council also declined to comment.

Mrs Wolfson was suspended in January last year and her contract expired months later in July.

‘I would never have done anything to jeopardise my job,’ she said. ‘While I agree teachers and children need to be safeguarded, the impact often goes against your instinct which is to care for and protect the child.’


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