Tag Archives: student debt

Beyond Individual Choice: Student debt as a problem for all of us

The following post by Daniel Souleles is another installment of the Anthropologies issue on student debt.  Souleles is a PhD Student in Applied Anthropology at Columbia University. He has done field work with Catholic hermit monks and is currently studying private equity investors in New York City for his dissertation field work. He is interested in questions of belief, wealth, and value in the contemporary USA. He can be reached at: dss2145@columbia.edu

As the not quite proud holder of around 100k in student debt, I’d like to offer a few different ways to think about debt, student debt, and a career in anthropology. The attention Savage Minds has been giving to student debt and paying for grad school is excellent. However, I’d like to push beyond focusing on whether or not a prospective grad student should or should not take on a lot of debt. Focusing on the individual gets us into a mindset where we portray the grad student as a patsy or a fool, and spares anyone else any responsibility or blame. So starting from the individual making a decision, here are some better questions we might ask:

1) Why might someone want to spend their life as an anthropologist? Say what you will about the state of the discipline, its skills at teaching, its accessibility. For all these issues of access and abstruseness, and despite the cost of tuition and the amount of adjuncts hustling out there, we still manage to convince a lot of people that they want to become an anthropologist. This is awesome. How and why do we this? What does this tell us about the folks (possibly you and definitely me!) who are willing to go into debt to chase this dream? We should work with this desire instead of saying it’s stupid. Continue reading

Counterpoint: Good Americans should pay their debts, thank Sallie Mae

In the interest of providing fair and balanced coverage of the ongoing Anthropologies-Savage Minds issue on student debt, I contacted Thomas J. Snodgrass to share some of his thoughts with us.  Snodgrass is a retired lobbyist (30 years of service), and currently heads up the Public Outreach Department (POD) for the American Education Fund (AEF), which is one of the premier student loan providers in the greater USA.  He has an MBA and a PhD in economics from the University of Chicago (1967).  His dissertation focused on efficient market models for domestic education and national patrimony.  In 1986 he was named to the Ayn Rand Institute’s “Top 100 Loyal Americans” list, an honor which he held for a record 13 straight years.  He is currently writing a memoir about his life and career in education reform, “The Spectre of Marxism: My fight to save the soul of higher ed.”  His book will be published in early 2015.

I had the opportunity to take a class in anthropology with a young Clifford Geertz when he was at the University of Chicago in the late 1960s.  I was nearing the end of my PhD, and I needed a “fun” course to blow off some steam.  I picked the right class.  Now, while Professor Geertz was indeed witty, frankly, after my rigorous studies in economics, I found anthropology to be slightly on the “soft” side.  That’s not to demean the discipline; I have no doubt it has its uses.  We all love dinosaurs and cave men, after all.  But I wanted to share my experiences to let you know, as readers of this anthropology “weblog,” that I am quite well versed in anthropology (I got a B plus in Mr. Geertz’s class).  Because of my deep familiarity with anthropology, I am not at all surprised by the slanted, misinformed, and, frankly, borderline un-American coverage of the student loan opportunity (it’s not a problem, let alone a “crisis”) on this site.

Frankly, back in the late 1960s anthropology was a hotbed of socialistic thinking and brazen anti-American thought.  So it’s no surprise to see that trend continue today, although it is disheartening for a lover of America like myself.  Only a bunch of Marxists could take the wonderful American institution of the student loan, which has helped generations improve their lives, and turn it into yet another blatant attempt to forgo personal responsibility and demand a free ride from the government.  I am here to set the record straight in three easy points that even those of you from the social sciences and humanities should be able to digest. Continue reading

Ghosts, Wolves, and Distractions: Student Debt and the Development Anthropologist

This is an invited post by Douglas La Rose for the Anthropologies Student Debt Issue (#20). Douglas is a graduate of San Diego State University’s Applied Anthropology M.A program. He is an applied environmental anthropologist who has been living and working in rural Africa since 2005. He worked as a consultant for both the United Nations Development Program and the African Adaptation Program, and also established his own agroforestry project in Ghana in 2011.  Currently, he works for Nuru International Ethiopia as an agriculture program specialist in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region of Ethiopia. His writing on Nuru Ethiopia’s agriculture program can be found here.

In order to make a real difference, you have to go deeply into “debt.” You have to take out a massive personal capacity-building loan to prepare yourself for the rugged terrain that is the world of international “development.” If you carry the heavier cross of wanting to entertain post-development notions – of deconstructing the way the North interacts with, represents, and perceives the South while “practicing” development – you must also drag along its corollary baggage: being a naysayer in an industry of entrenched professionals and experts. If you have had the misfortune of being trained beyond the capacity that is desired of a development professional – a reflexive applied anthropologist always willing to intervene with a “now, wait a second” – then you suddenly become less an asset than a perceived enemy or an implant.

In this academy-abandoned landscape of moving forward with a kind of loosely defined and intensively critical development philosophy, the very contours and nature of debt become something like a ghost. Debt becomes something that is difficult to believe in as a real entity. It is negative capital that must be plodded through to realize a sense of personal freedom. But at the same time it exists in a realm of voices, letters, phone calls, and news articles. One is constantly reminded of it – even distracted by it – but as it howls it is difficult to feel the substance of its howl. The wolves at the door appear to be more holograms than threats. Why throw your livelihood to these beasts when you have a child to feed? Why acknowledge their scratchings when your real task at hand is to co-create an agriculture program in Ethiopia or bring attention to indigenous adaptations to climate change in marginalized areas of Ghana? The ghost of debt becomes something like a joke. The voices, the letters, the phone calls, the news stories, the “bubble” – all of it collapses under the immensity of its absurdity. Of course, this is all wrong and unpatriotic. Right? Continue reading

What Comes After the Public University?

This is an invited post by Ann Larson for the Anthropologies Student Debt Issue (#20).  Larson is a graduate of the PhD program in English at the CUNY Graduate Center where she researched first-generation students in higher education. In academic exile, she has worked as an adjunct professor, as a public relations assistant, and as a (volunteer) communications and technical coordinator for Strike Debt. Her writing on debt can be found here, here and here. She writes about academia on her blog.

YOUARENOTALOAN[1]

With total student loan debt over one trillion dollars, millions of students and families can never hope to repay what they owe, especially since there are no individual solutions to the problem. Student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy, and student loan lenders can and do garnish debtors’ wages and social security checks. The powers of lenders to collect are unprecedented in the history of creditor/debtor relations.

Yet, belief in upward mobility through education is still a profoundly American ideal. In the midst of the latest recession, politicians and elites have argued not for the redistribution of wealth but for making college “more affordable” in the belief that increasing access to education makes more fundamental social changes unnecessary. Forgotten, too, in the emphasis on college financing is that education is not just a path to a job. It’s a site of human desire, aspiration, and hope for the future. Continue reading

Student Debt and Activism in New Zealand

This is an invited post by Hollie Russell for the Anthropologies Student Debt Issue (#20).  Russell is a student at Victoria University of Wellington, about to start her Masters in anthropology with a student loan debt of $33,515.08. Her interests include politics, activism, and good coffee. Follow her on twitter @hollierussell8

In New Zealand, student debt is a pervasive and powerful feature of student life. Neoliberal user-pay ideologies led to the introduction of tuition fees in 1989 and the formation of the Student Loan Scheme in 1992. Through the scheme many New Zealand students have become increasingly indebted to the government in the form of financial loans. As of June 2012, 701,000 people had a student loan with Inland Revenue and the nominal value of loan balances was almost $13 billion (MoE 2012). My own loan balance sits at $33,515.08 which is just above average for postgraduate students.

The prevalence of student loans and the massive amount of debt owed by students in New Zealand has directly influenced student activism, but has also affected participation indirectly because of its influence on the priorities, energy and time students have had. It seems that, that which could potentially inspire students to action often discourages them.

One way student debt effects activism is by influencing student’s priorities. Due to debt, most students take on part-time work, which on top of assignments, revision, lectures, and tutorials, does not leave students with much spare time. Additionally, when students do have free time, they are more likely to spend it doing activities and joining clubs which will benefit their résumé, a result of the anxiety surrounding their debt. As Paul Comrie-Thomson (2010) points out “a prospective employer is going to be considerably more inclined to take on a member of the debating club than say a member of the University’s Marxist community”. Zoe Zuccotti, a student activist herself, echoes Comrie-Thomson’s idea, explaining the conflicting features of contemporary student life: Continue reading

Consuming the Academic Bubble

This is an invited post by Jeremy Trombley as part of the Anthropologies (#20) Student Debt issue.  Trombley is a PhD student at the University of Maryland studying environmental anthropology. His dissertation research focuses on the use of computational environmental modeling to understand and predict the effects of environmental management practices on the Chesapeake Bay. In addition he has done research on coal power in western Kansas, traditional cultural properties (TCPs) in rural Nevada, and aquatic invasive species (AIS) on the Eastern Shore. He blogs at Struggle Forever!

Sometimes I feel as though I’ve been swindled. Not by anyone in particular but by an institution that is relentlessly trying to prop itself up despite its progressive decline. That institution is the academy – once a public good devoted to the free production of critical knowledge, it has become in the last few decades a corporatized factory for the production of capitalist consumers and wage slaves. More than that, it has become itself a product for consumption where what’s for sale is the facsimile of intellectual freedom and integrity. Like so many extravagant island resorts, universities offer manicured landscapes, leisure activities, freedom from the wage clock – all for a price and all safely sectioned off from the harsh realities outside. But the price is going up, and students – the consumers of this image world that they are being sold – are taking on increasing amounts of debt to pay it. What’s more, they’re told this is “good debt” – like buying a house, right? Remember when owning a home was the “American Dream” – a symbol of financial security? Now that bubble has burst – the academic bubble, I believe, is not far behind it.

Bubbles happen when a sector of the economy becomes delusional – when those who take part in it believe it to be free from the economic rules upon which our world is constructed. Academia has become such a delusion. But bubbles are not accidents – they are an inevitable part of a system that seeks the maximization of profit as the ultimate value. Speculators dive in, drawn by promises of wealth and freedom only to be crushed by the inevitable collapse of the delusional space. The speculators are consumers themselves, buying into a vision sold to them by the real beneficiaries – the banks, insurance companies, and, in the case of academia, the Universities. In this case, the speculator-consumers are the students – drawn in by the lure of “good debt”, stipends, the image of freedom and intellectual engagement, and the promise of a good job when it’s all over. Continue reading

Anthro student debt: Stories from the debt-free

The surveys are open for another week, but there’s one aspect of the first survey that I’d like to explore a little closer right now: the respondents who reported being free of student loan debt on Survey #1.  Out of a total of 226 responses (as of this morning), 75 people reported that they have zero student loan debt (33%).  This is the most common response to the question about debt.  The second most common response was student debt between $11,000 and $30,000, which was reported by about 19% of respondents.

So what’s going on with the folks who reported no student loan debt?  What do these responses tell us?  My first question when I saw these results was whether the “zero debt” segment would be overwhelmingly positive in terms of their outlook about anthropology and their academic career.  I also wondered if this segment would be more dismissive about the student debt issue, since they don’t have any debt themselves.  As is often the case, however, the actual results offer quite a lot more than the story the raw numbers seem to tell. Continue reading

Student debt survey updates

Here’s a short update about the two student debt surveys I started last week. Both surveys will be open for another week.  After that I will compile the responses and share the results here as part of the Savage Minds/anthropologies series on student debt.  The first survey has a total of 226 responses so far.  The second survey, which looks at debt by country and institution, has 113 responses.  Thanks everyone for taking the time to do the surveys!  Please note: It would be great to get some more responses from biological/physical anthropologists, archaeologists, and linguistic anthropologists (and other sub-fields) for these surveys.  Responses from socio-cultural anthropologists dominate both surveys (65% in the first survey, 56% in the second).  Look for another update in one week when these surveys close!

Anthropologies: Anthro student debt survey, round 2 (debt by country/institution)

This survey is part of the Anthropologies (#20) issue about student debt, here on Savage Minds.

As of about 7:30 PST on 1/20/14, the anthropologies/Savage Minds student debt survey has 191 responses.  Thanks everyone for taking part in that first survey!  The point of the survey was to get a general understand about debt as it relates to the broad community of people who identity themselves with anthropology.  This includes people in the US, of course, but also beyond it.  But one of the flaws in the survey is this openness.  As readers here on SM and Facebook pointed out, I should have included a question about the country in which people studied anthropology to help parse out the numbers.  Thanks for the input.  That was a pretty big omission on my part!  So, in an attempt to answer this question, I have written up a very short follow up survey that attempts to get a better understanding of debt by country/institution.  Please note that you will be able to see everyone’s answers to the survey once you hit the “submit” button at the bottom of the page.  Once I close both surveys I will compile everything and share the results here on Savage Minds.

Please click here to take the second survey.

Thank you for taking the time to take this follow up survey.  If you have any questions, comments, or concerns please email me anytime: ethnografix@gmail.com

UPDATE 1/20/14 at 4:41 pm PST: We already have 47 responses for this survey!  Thanks everyone.  ONE IMPORTANT NOTE: If you have no student loan or credit card debt, please enter a ZERO instead of leaving answers blank!! Thanks!!

Anthropologies: Student Debt in anthropology (Survey)

In order to kick off the first Savage Minds/anthropologies issue about student debt, let’s start with a short survey.  Following on the heels of Karen Kelsky’s recent survey about PhD debt, I want to see if we can get a little more information about student debt in the discipline of anthropology.  This survey is open to anyone who has ever studied anthropology at the undergraduate or graduate level (past and present).  It’s also anonymous.  If you finished your degree yesterday, we want to hear from you.  If you dropped out, fill it out and tell us why.  If you finished back in 1980, we want to hear from you too.  I am going to let the survey run for two weeks, which means it will close on Friday, January 31.  Let me know if you have any questions: email me at ethnografix at gmail dot com.  Thanks in advance for taking the time to fill this out!  And please pass this along to your anthropology colleagues and friends!

Click here to take the survey!

UPDATE 1/17: As of about 8:45 pm PST, there are already 60 responses!  Thanks!!  When the survey closes I will compile everything and post the results here on Savage Minds.  In the mean time you can see an overview of all responses after you click the submit button.

UPDATE II, 1/20/14: Based upon a few reader comments about the lack of a question about the institution/country in which people have studied anthropology I have created a short follow up survey: Student Debt in Anthropology Survey #2 (Debt by country/institution).  Thanks for all of your help and input everyone!

Anthropologies on Savage Minds

After a couple years of running the anthropologies project and writing for Savage Minds, I have decided to combine my online energies.  Anthropologies is moving to Savage Minds!  The core idea of the project is going to stay the same, but the way it works is going to change a bit.  Instead of publishing collections of essays all at once in journal-esque format, the new anthropologies here on Savage Minds will entail a series of themed, invited posts over a 1-2 month period.  At the end of the series I will publish the collection in either E-pub or PDF format to make things nice and accessible.  I think it’s going to work out very well.

All upcoming issues will be announced in advance to encourage as much participation as possible.  If you have any comments or ideas, please feel free to email me at ethnografix at gmail dot com.  Suggestions and ideas are always welcome.

The first Savage Minds/anthropologies issue will focus on the pressing, depressing, and ever-worsening subject of student debt.  It’s an issue that affects far too many people, and it needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.  I wrote about student debt here on Savage Minds a while back–at the end of the post I mentioned the idea of marshaling anthropology to start finding some answers.  That’s what this issue is all about: bringing anthropology to bear on a subject that hits close to home for a lot of people trying to slog their way through grad school, recent graduation, adjunct-hood, and the horrible job market.  Several contributors are already lined up, and the first installment of the series will be online soon!  In anticipation of the student debt issue, check out this must read article on the Chronicle of Higher Ed by Audrey Williams June (published today), which mentions the PhD Debt Survey that Karen Kelsky started just a few days ago (it already has more than a thousand anonymous responses).  Also check out Rebecca Schuman’s related piece on Slate.  Those two articles will be a good prep for taking on–and hopefully pushing back against–the entrenched problem of student debt.

*Upcoming themes include: The politics of global warming and environmentalism; Aging; The uses and abuses of “culture”;  An anthropology of the stuff we eat.  And more!  This series is open to suggestions, participation, and ideas, so please feel free to post your comments here or email me (ethnografix@gmail.com).