Higher Cost Education

Maybe we should begin inserting “cost” in between “higher” and “education” as a continual reminder of the increasing challenge paying for college poses.

On Lutheran university campuses there’s frequent talk of vocation which Frederick Buechner described this way, “Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” During a “vocation” conversation last week, I listened to a colleague talk earnestly about the role discernment plays in determining one’s vocation. To “discern” something is to develop spiritual direction and understanding.

The discernment reference was shortly after another colleague shared an anecdote about a recent grad who’d returned to say he was still trying to find a job that would enable him to pay his bills. And mostly likely, tens of thousands of dollars of student debt.

Prior to that a colleague said we talk too narrowly about diversity, limiting it mostly to race, meaning important differences between economic classes are slighted. Connecting the various dots, it dawned on me that our repeated talk of vocation and discernment is a byproduct of our privilege. Discernment implies multiple possibilities in life, when an increasing percentage of college grads, like my colleague’s former student, would be content with one job that pays a livable wage.

In the 20th century, a college degree created far more opportunities than it does in the 21st. I’m afraid some of my higher ed friends and I have lost touch with people’s day-to-day realities. Naively, we talk of great joy, great need, spiritual direction, and understanding; when what many of them want is enough money to make it to graduation and the confidence they’ll find decent enough work to meet their basic needs.

 

 

 

The Parable of the Clueless Professor

Tacoma, Washington, Thursday morn, Administration Room 213. A few minutes before the first year writing seminar begins.

McKall, who started the semester with a ton of extra credit because she has a great name and personality; and she’s from Boise, Idaho, my birthplace; asks whether I like my new phone.

That’s right, last week an iPhone 6+ bounced from China; to Louisville, Kentucky; to my front door. And sure enough, the box had my name on it. That means I have to find some other way to distinguish myself from the masses.

Students smiled when I told them my daughter made fun of me for texting with one finger. “You can use both thumbs,” she said. I tell my students I like it. Too big? Be serious. I can palm a basketball and my frame of reference is my iPad. I love how compact my new pocket computer is. They also got a kick out of my temporary case, a wool sock.

Alex is to the left of me. “And you have a Garmin watch too.”

Alex started the semester with even more extra credit than McKall because she’s from California, she’s on the cross country team, and she’s a first generation college student who came to office hours last week. Her parents are from Mexico and have sacrificed mightily to provide her a better life. She hit her head on something while lifting weights right before classes began. She refuses to use her serious concussion “as an excuse” and may be too tough for her own good since she’s pushing harder than her doctors probably realize.

“Yeah, but it’s the cheapest Garmin they make, they go from $150-$450,” said the clueless professor. Alex’s audible exhale conveyed disgust. Understandably. To her that might be textbooks for a year. Statistics tell us most first generation college students drop out at some point because they can’t afford to continue. Out of touch professors can’t help.

Inadvertently losing touch with low income people is one inevitable consequence of wealth that’s rarely talked about. When I was Alex’s age, one of my college roommates and I became friends. That is until he learned my parents were paying my tuition. He was busting his hump to pay his way and he resented my privilege. Our friendship was never the same.

Should I have declined my parents’ generosity for the sake of my roommate’s friendship? Should I not wear my Garmin watch to class? Of course not, but I should be sensitive to other people’s circumstances. Thursday, a few minutes before class began, I wasn’t.