Adjuncts’ student loans

I think philosophy students are often advised not to consider graduate school unless they are offered some sort of financial support. If so, perhaps those now in adjunct positions in our profession are not very often in the sort of situation described below. But some are; it would be good for us to make more public just what’s going on.

John Smith (a pseudonym, as are all below) is an adjunct professor at a Southern University and owes $125,000 total for his three degrees: BA, MA, and PHD in anthropology.

“I’ve been able to get them on a reduced payment from the $1700 per month that I was supposed to pay to $151 a month based on my low income,” he told me. “I am being paid an adjunct wage of $3000 per class. ‘There just isn’t any money to pay you more than this.’ I am told. At four classes per semester that comes to $24,000 per year. At this rate, I am saddled with debt that I will never pay off. I can’t qualify for a home, or additional credit card. Haven’t tried to get a new vehicle, but I’ve driven my truck for 14 years.”

“I knew academia would be tough, but who would have guessed that I would be making less than my 20 year-old nephew with a GED who services the interior of commercial aircraft and makes $32,000 per year? I’m completely beside myself. I’ve taken another job as a research assistant to make ends meet, but it inhibits my ability to research and write my own work. Of course, with no publications and no time to write, I’m not a very good candidate for other positions elsewhere. It’s a catch 22 that has me very, very distressed. Quite honestly, I feel totally exploited, which is ironic since I teach about the exploitative nature of globalization and the neoliberal model. I feel like an idiot for thinking that I could get a living wage as an anthropologist.”

Part of the problem is the 7% interest rate students are charged for loans. Another part of the problem is that people end up with unsecured loans that vastly outstrip what would go on in any other sensible loan situation. I couldn’t just go to a bank and walk out with a hundred thousand dollars, but a young relative of mine with no back-up resources got that sum over his school career to see him through grad design school in NYC.

Facing an extremely tough employment situation with a sky high debt at high interest rates and a terrible employment situation is a possibility that now has personal implications. And I have had adjunct stints, though in more comfortable circumstances. But it took a recent article in Counterpunch for me to realize how bad things can be within our profession.

Please add any details or observations that can help fill out the picture.

6 thoughts on “Adjuncts’ student loans

  1. Three thousand dollars per course is a princely some compared to what I am paid to teach upper level philosophy courses here in a medium size state university: $1,500 per 3 hour course. If I teach 20 students the school gets $11,000 and I get $1,500. Last semester I had to buy my own chalk as the chairman of the department had no idea how to get any. I guess the regular professors don’t use the stuff.

    Fortunately I am 60 years old don’t have any student loans. I am just trying to scratch up a little income to get by on after finding myself more or less unemployable after age 55.

    Meanwhile the university is happily selling $54 million in bonds to build an indoor football practice facility, a parking garage, a soccer field and an engineering building, which will be paid back with tuition and fees from students who have to take loans to stay in school. If the students start to figure out that their degrees are not worth the expense of the loans enrollment will plummet and this house of cards will topple like the others.

  2. I think the education system is going to quake apart if something doesn’t change soon.

    I’m lucky I’m Canadian and our tuition is relatively affordable (compared to the US), but students still come out of school about $25-40K in debt for an undergrad degree, then they’re chained to it for the rest of their lives. The government is trying to SUE me for the last $5K of my student loans, and I didn’t have the grades to go to grad school, so it’s pretty much like I wasted that money.

    Not only do education programs need to revise how post-secondary education is funded, students going to university need a “real world” education on debt management. If I had known then what I know now, I would not have gone to university.

    It’s not fair that only the privileged class can afford to go to school. It’s ALSO not fair that the working class is deceived by a promise that their loan payments will be affordable.

    If I had my way, I’d propose a system of “work colleges,” as a few private colleges in the US offer. They give you a tuition scholarship, in exchange for working that many hours for the school (the bookstore, library, grounds maintenance, etc.).

    If that sort of thing was offered up here, I’d sign up in a heartbeat! It’s not perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot better than graduating with a debt I can’t pay and ruining the rest of my life.

  3. Synaesthetik,

    A number of Canadian universities do have work-study programs although they’re generally need-based, so some who need them probably won’t qualify because their parents earn too much, or something of the sort. But they do exist. I know of at least four universities with such a program.

  4. Further…Here’s how it works, based on one of the colleges (not all of them).

    Let’s say tuition is $13,000. They give you a scholarship for $6,500 of it just for getting into their school. You’re expected to apply for other federal grant programs. But if you don’t get it, they actually give you a scholarship for the rest, so you don’t pay them tuition.

    In return, you owe the school X number of hours of work.

    When I was an OSAP student, I worked in the library a few hours a week for a paycheque. The school got a grant from the government to hire someone, but the employee had to be eligible for OSAP. So I still had to be in debt, and it wasn’t a work-for-tuition program in the same way. See what I mean? I still ended up with an OSAP debt.

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