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!


Ryan Anderson is a cultural and environmental anthropologist. His current research focuses on coastal conservation, sustainability, and development in the Californias. He also writes about politics, economics, and media. You can reach him at ryan AT savageminds dot org or @anthropologia on twitter.

10 thoughts on “Anthropologies: Student Debt in anthropology (Survey)

  1. I hesitated to write certain things in that form – but I do wonder how many grad students (not just in anthropology) are in debt as a result of being in abusive relationships AND not being supported effectively by faculty or the administration. No, I don’t think faculty should try to do the University Counselor’s job – but they should know when something’s up, and be ready to say ‘this sounds like a conversation you might want to speak with a counselor about. Do you think you’d be comfortable with that? I can support you academically, but I want you to make sure you’re in a good place to handle the academics. Here’s their number…’

    More broadly still: how many students are in debt due to medical expenses, because the university’s health insurance plan doesn’t cover various expenses, or because the student is in a province or state without a decent state or provincial healthcare plan?

    What about students who require mental healthcare? (And is that typically covered very well under most provincial and state plans? No?)

  2. Hi Steps, a quick note: I edited your comment to remove the link in the beginning, since our comment policy does not allow that. Sorry! If you like, feel free to use a ping back on your blog. And… thanks for your comment!

  3. Hi Rex: That was a quick turnaround! I’ll have to find out how pingbacks work – I just hit the ‘reblog’ function from WordPress’s main page (but I can check up on how that works 🙂 )

  4. I just took the survey, and reading the results, I am not sure what the point of the exercise is. So many of the former/students responding were educated in places like the UK where the government automatically pays their way (which I think is fabulous, and I wish it worked that way in the US. It ought to.). There are often much shorter PhD programs in Europe than in the US, so the question of debt would be structured differently. What is the intention of the survey? To understand all anthro student debt, or to understand it in light of a government that does not feel responsible for college education? Without asking a question about where the degrees were obtained, the data is harder to make sense of, unless people happened to volunteer that information on their own. The experience of a UK anthropologist who never had to pay out of pocket for school is not going to be easily comparable (using the current survey) to a US student who was almost entirely unfunded, and had to take 10 years to finish a PhD because of having to work, and all that time accruing more interest on their loans… Their responses are all mixed up.

    I think surveys like this are a great idea (so thank you, to those who are taking the time and energy), I think we just need a better design if we are trying to obtain meaningful data that we can use.

  5. All good points Margarite. In this survey I was going for a general understanding of debt across the discipline of anthropology–how much debt and a bit more about what that debt means to people. That’s why I included several of the more open-ended questions. The last two, in connection with the debt numbers, are particularly interesting to me. I asked some different questions than those that Karen Kelsky brought up (she did ask a question about institution). I agree though that a question about where the degrees were obtained would have been a key addition. It would have been easy to include. But then, any short survey is going to have limits–I could have also asked about age, gender, nationality etc etc. Perhaps we might be able to get into some of the issues/questions you raise with another short follow up survey…assuming that the SM (and Twitter) readership doesn’t already have survey burnout! Thanks for your input–I appreciate it. Ryan.

  6. The survey doesn’t ask in which country are you studying / studied anthropology, and it doesn’t state anywhere whether it’s interested in student debt specifically in US or in all countries. This could be quite a big flaw in study design if you don’t know in which country your informants have studied.

    I’ve experienced this a lot when reading Savage Minds: at times it’s so extremely US-centric that it seems to forget that people study anthropology all over the world.

    Anyway, I did the survey. I have never had any student debt, although I’m doing a double major, because all university education is completely free in Finland and state pays all students approximately 500 euros monthly for studying. We do have heavily subsidied and state-backed loans for students, and students often take them so that they can study full-time. I opted to do part-time jobs during my studies, so I’ve been able to live very comfortably without any loan.

  7. Hi Viljami,

    Thanks for your comment. As has been mentioned above, the big flaw in this survey is that I don’t ask which country people studied in. That was an oversight on my part that could have been easily addressed. I think I’ll do a short follow up to try to parse out the debt by country/institution issue.

    In this first (admittedly general) I was interested just in looking at what debt means for a broad community of people who are part of this thing we call “anthropology.” As it’s worded in the original post, it’s open to *anyone* in the world who’s a part of anthropology.

    But I agree with you that many US anthros tend to forget about anthropology in the rest of the world, and that’s a major issue. Personally, I’m more interested in looking at anthropology in a broad sense, as it exists beyond the confines of the US. Anthropology is much more than just what happens here.

    Thanks again for your comments, and for taking the survey. As usual, surveys always lead to more questions, which is a good thing. As with any activity of question-asking, initial questions (should) lead to better refined, more on target questions as investigations continue. Stay tuned.

  8. Ryan: Viljami didn’t write that many US anthros tend to forget about anthropology in the rest of the world. Viljami wrote that Savage Minds tends to have a US-centric bias. I suspect that most of us who have worked extensively in non-US countries are very sensitive to anthropology in the rest of the world, and even online communities such as the OAC are all about an international perspective on our field. More importantly, “what debt means” for people is surely a function of a whether becoming an anthropologist means acquiring debt, and distinguishing high-debt systems from low- or no-debt systems is crucial. I know that there is little likelihood of anthropology following some high-tech fields, but my initial fantasy was that students in the US would increasingly decline to take on the large personal debt required to get an anthropology PhD in a high-risk job market, leaving many academic positions open to non-US anthropologists who were able to go through grad school with low-or-no debt.

  9. Barbara wrote: “Viljami didn’t write that many US anthros tend to forget about anthropology in the rest of the world. Viljami wrote that Savage Minds tends to have a US-centric bias.”

    Yes he did, and he’s right. Savage Minds has a decidedly US-centric focus–no surprise there. But there’s no reason why it can’t be opened up a bit (or a lot). All the same, I think US anthropology is extremely US-centric as well. This comes from conversations I have had with colleagues in Mexico (where I have spent a lot of time the past 7 years), and elsewhere. So the issue with SM is indicative of a wider issue, IMO. And that’s exactly what sites like the OAC are trying to address. But again, I’d like to see SM expand its scope as well.

  10. Suppose those of us who have worked outside the United States and encountered anthropologists who are well-known in their home countries but unknown in the U.S. or Europe wrote a series of short introductions to them and their work? We could even do two series, one dedicated to the ancestors who are to their traditions what Boas and Malinowski are to ours and another to scholars still or recently active. In the first category, I could contribute short introductions to Fei Xiaotong (China) and Umesao Tadao (Japan). As for the second, I have a chapter on the Keieijinruigaku(Anthropology of Administration) group based at Minpaku (Japan’s National Museum of Ethnology) scheduled to appear this year in a book tentatively titled Handbook of International Business Anthropology. A précis would be easy to knock off. On the other hand, I am totally ignorant of who we might be talking about in Latin America, Africa or India….Would be great to learn what I’m missing.

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