Saturday, December 05, 2009

3 ways education spending could IMMEDIATELY help create jobs

As the president and Congress discuss how to create jobs, they seem to be circling around a lot of the usual ideas: tax cuts for businesses that hire, subsidies and incentives for green energy, and building contracts for infrastructure and the like.

What we haven't heard much about is DIRECT government action to create jobs. The problem with creating public jobs for things like renewable energy is it could conceivably compete with private sector businesses already doing the same thing. This would not be the case if education were used to both remove some workers from the job force and create additional jobs.

The quickest fix would be to change the structure of college financial aid, so more kids could go to college full time. I teach community college and most of my students have to work full time to pay their way through school, which means they will be lucky to get their bachelor degree by thirty. If those kids (and older students) got enough financial aid to go to school full time, they would free up low end jobs for others.

We could also create jobs by hiring more K-12 teachers to dramatically reduce class size, especially in poorer communities. Even a crappy teacher can do a passable job if the class is small enough, and even the best teacher will struggle if a class is too big. We could also hire more classroom aides to help teachers, and people to provide after school programs to keep kids out of trouble. That would not only creat jobs but pay more dividends in the long run than the right wing "education reform" snake oil of merit pay and privatized charter schools.

The third way to create jobs with education is less obvious. At community colleges, the vast majority of instructors are part time, have no job security, receive few or no benefits, and are paid as little as a quarter as much as their full time peers. To a lesser but still significant degree, the same thing happens at four year public universities. Consequently, two things happen that distort the academic labor market:
  1. Part time faculty teach more classes to make up for low pay or have a second job in the private sector.

  2. Full time faculty are pressured to teach more than a full time load so administrators can get the maximum value for the benefit dollars they are forced to spend on the lucky few.

  3. Here in California, colleges have the added incentive of being allowed to pay these full time faculty LESS than their regular pay for these extra class (the opposite of the usual overtime rules requiring "time and a half" pay)
A slight change in these labor practices would create more academic jobs:
  • Require that three-quarters of college faculty be full time and/or all facutly be paid on one pay scale, so part time faculty teach fewer classes (freeing some up for someone else to teach) or quit their jobs in the private sector (freeing them up so someone else can be hired).
  • Ban full time faculty from teaching more than a full time load, freeing up their excess classes for someone else to teach (and giving them more time to be available to students).
The federal government could cause these changes with both a carrot and stick--the carrot of funding for the extra full time positions, and the stick of making federal funding contingent on adopting these labor practices.

President Obama announced a community college initiative last summer that would spend money on buildings, technology, and online curriculum, but the jobs effect of all of those would be temporary at best. The real change has to be how the instructors who show up to teach in those shiny new buildings but don't know how they will pay their rent at the end of the semester are treated.

All three of these would do our country more good than any contract to build a road or bridge, or a tax cut that will just be used to sock more money away in a Cayman Islands account.




Sunday, November 29, 2009

Letter to Jill Biden: help end abuse of fellow part time faculty

Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, is easily the most well-known adjunct faculty member in America today, which is why the Part Time Faculty committee of the California Federation of Teachers sent her the following letter, asking for her help:

Dear Dr. Biden,

The members of the Part Time Faculty Committee of the California Federation of Teachers represents many of the 45,000 part time and non-tenure track faculty throughout our state. Nationally, 70-80% of community college faculty are part time or non-tenure track. At four year schools, 25-35% are non-tenure track.

In your speech at UNESCO 2009 World Conference on Higher Educatin, you said you were "grateful for the opportunity to spread the word about the valuable contribution community colleges make in the United States." We hope you will be equally eager to help end the economic abuse of those adjunct faculty who dedicate their careers to teaching in community colleges.

As a part time faculty member yourself, you have no doubt seen for yourself the economic abuse of part time and an non-tenure track faculty. In some districts, we earn as little as 25% as much per class  as our full time tenure track colleagues, are often denied health insurance or other benefits, and rarely have any job security. Here in California, community college part time faculty have to drive long distances to patch together jobs in multiple districts to earn a living.

Instructors wh have to run from one campus to another to make enough money to survive are going to be less available to their students outside of class, no matter what their good intentions.

No one who enters education expects to get rich in the teaching profession, but is it too much to ask that those who teach college, a job that requires a masters degree or Ph.D., at least get the same job security and benefits as those who teach K-12? And when we do choose to teach part time, shouldn't there be ONE pay scale since we are required to have the same qualifications as our full time colleagues?

What are we teaching our students about the value of higher education when those who make a career of providing it struggle to make a living?

We have tried to reform this unfair system for decades, but now we are in a unique point in history with a Democratic President and Congress, and reforming mood in the country, as President Obama has shown with his recent community college initiative. At the same time, those schools need a firm hand to prevent new funding from going to administrative bloat and six figure salaries for managers while those who actually teach are denied a living wage, health care, and academic freedom through job security.

Your stature as a public figure and status as a part time instructor could attract much needed attention and help prod change if you were to advocate on our behalf.

Therefore, we would like to request your support in promoting national legislation requiring the following:
  • Every college or university have at least three-fourths of their faculty members be full time, tenure track employees.
  • Part-time faculty get the same pay per class as their full-time peers if they have achieved the same qualifications and length of service.
  • Part-time, nontenure-track faculty be granted proportionate benefits compared to their full-time, tenure-track peers.
  • At universities, a tenure track should exist for teaching faculty, not just research faculty.
If our country truly values education, it cannot continue to treat those who dedicate their lives to delivering it as second class citizens.

Sincerely,

Phyllis Eckler, Chair
Part-Time Committee
California Federation of Teachers

We are still hoping for a reply.

In the meantime, if you're an adjunct yourself or sympathetic to our cause, you could contact your senators and congressman and ask them for at least those four points in it as part of an amendment to the .

You could also write Dr. Biden yourself and tell her what your life as an adjunct has been like at:

Jill Biden
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500


NOTE: The AFT FACE webpage has also posted an article on the Biden letter.

 



Wednesday, October 07, 2009

AFT wants cut in adjunct abuse in higher ed bill


After the House of Representatives recently passed a bill shifting college financial aid away from private banks and more toward grants directly to students, the president of the American Federation of Teachers sent a letter to the House saying that the final version of the bill should inclusion language on the abuse of adjunct faculty:
The lack of attention paid to the loss of full-time tenured faculty positions, and the overwhelming growth of poorly paid part-time faculty, has been taking a toll on higher education for many years. Today, almost three out of four undergraduate instructors are contingent rather than permanent full-time faculty members-contingent faculty members teach a majority of the nation's undergraduate courses. Unless we take steps to reverse course, this trend will greatly impair the ability of our colleges and universities to reach the national goals Congress has set for them.
Specifically, we believe it is essential that programs designed to improve persistence and completion, especially those targeted at community colleges, should include provisions that encourage institutions to strengthen their instructional workforce by creating additional full-time faculty positions or providing more stability and equitable compensation for part-time faculty.

FULL TEXT
I was grateful to see this campaign, but concerned about the weak language, and added the following note to the post the on the AFT website, and to my letter to our senators:

You should not just ask for language to "encourage" or "permit" this but REQUIRE it, and not just "reduce" unequal pay and compensation but END it.

Too many college administrators not only do not make ending these inequities a priority, but they actively fight against ending them.

We can not depend on them to act responsibly without forceful legislation requiring them to do so.

I also fail to see why our union can't say that schools are economically abusing people who have dedicated their lives to education, including, in many cases, not giving us health insurance, or not giving us enough to cover our families as well.

If we are going to get on the radar, we aren't going to do it by soft-pedaling the problem.

Frankly, there is potentially a very brief window for progressive action in Washington. If Democrats do not pass a strong health insurance reform bill, that window will begin to close and might well be gone after the 2010 election. If they do pass good legislation, there will be momentum that we should ride to get major things done.

We must set our sights higher than glacial, incremental change or we won't get any change at all.

LINK to write letter to senators


Article on AFT president's letter

We should use the AFT link to write to show the AFT that we appreciate the effort, but I would also ask that you compose your own letter to our senators and congressman about H.R. 3221 with stronger language than the campaign.




Thursday, August 27, 2009

Labor Secretary on NPR sidesteps part timer question

As I was leaving one of my two jobs the other day, I turned on NPR and heard Labor Secretary Hilda Solis on some NPR show taking calls. The first one I heard was from a part timer who laid out our problems pretty well: paid far less than full time colleagues, often no get no benefits, the lessened availability to students as we zip from campus to campus to patch together enough to survive, and the irony of all that given how important the president has said community colleges are. He also noted that a lot of the stimulus money went to one time building projects instead of persistent abuses like this.

Her answer was disturbing. She hemmed and hawed a lot and said this was primarily a state issue, and their job was mostly to insure that contracts were enforced. She went on to say it would be tough to fix issues like this because of the current budget crisis.

Even the host of the show said their would was little in her answer that would comfort the person asking the question.

While Solis is obviously better than the Bush secretary of labor who called teachers' unions terrorists, her answer is unacceptable for a number of reasons.

For one, the federal government intervenes in education at the state level all the time. It forced the steaming pile of excrement No Child Left Behind on K-12 schools, and more admirably, sets anti-discrimination conditions on colleges that take federal money. It doesn't take too much creativity to see how they could set minimum academic labor standards on colleges and universities.

I would have some sympathy for the budget argument if the first thing the Obama administration had done WASN'T giving nearly a trillion dollars to people on Wall Street who caused more economic harm than any terrorists could in their wildest dreams. He just recently reappointed Ben Bernanke who gave trillions more to the same crooks and refused to tell Congress how much he gave to which ones.

Wall Street hurts people on purpose to further enrich a very, very few. We do our jobs in hope that those we serve will be better citizens and better able to support their families. It is offensive for a supposedly Democratic administration to say they can do nothing for us while they give more than enough to fix our problems to sociopathic trust fund babies on Wall Street who spend the money on bonuses and parties and squirrel the rest away in offshore accounts.

audio of question & her answer

video

TRANSCRIPT OF PART TIMER QUESTION:

CONAN: We're speaking with the secretary of labor, Hilda Solis. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And this email from Betsy(ph) in Cape Cod: I'm a part-time community college faculty member. We earn a small fraction of the salary our full-time colleagues earn for doing the same job, and many of us get no benefits. The stimulus money that was supposed to be going to keep jobs is frequently going instead to one-time capital projects. Even those of us who Re unionized - and we are the minority - are unable in the main to strike so there is very little we can do during contract negotiations. If educating people is as important as the president said, is strengthening faculty salaries, benefits and job security part of your agenda? If so, how do you propose to do it?

Sec. SOLIS: Wow. That's a big challenge. But it's one that I understand well as a former trustee of a community college and understand well the challenges, because many states by the way, who provide most of the bulk of support for funding for community colleges, their revenue has gone down. So, I know even in my own state of California many people have been pink-slipped, laid off. They've had to reduce class size and actually turn away a number of students that want to enroll in the fall, or postpone their education. So, I understand there has to be a need to help provide assistance and leadership for community colleges. And just to give you an idea, most of the training money that DOL is putting out - a lot of it will be going in partnership with community colleges. So, there will be an opportunity to hire up, to bring in more faculty and to also expand the services that community colleges offer because they are by and large the people that entertain the most number of people who go into a higher education.

CONAN: I didn't hear a lot in there that would make her happier about the conditions in which she works.

Sec. SOLIS: A lot of - I think a lot of that - certainly we want to make sure that contracts are respected, collective bargaining agreements. There's always been an issue with respect to different bargaining groups, or groups that are represented in bargaining groups, that want to be a part of that. So, I think the continuance of involvement on the part of part-time faculty members I think is a legitimate issue and should be looked at. Because as it stands, you also find that that faculty member is not as inclined to stay committed to those groups of students that they do teach because they're off to different - other -what they call, freeway traveling or teaching…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Sec. SOLIS: …because they're going to find wherever they can get their salary paid. And it's unfortunate that that's what it's kind of turned to. I hope that we could end that in some way. But right now with the recession being what it is, I think it's going to be difficult.

Talk of the Nation, Aug. 25, 2009




Saturday, July 18, 2009

Obama's Community College Initiative gives hope but needs change

Gabriel Arana at The American Prospect gets what's wrong with the community college system:
Obama’s plan for community colleges is not broad enough in scope to address all these concerns, but it can still be designed so it does not perpetuate the problem. Washington, D.C.-based higher education expert Ben Miller suggests limiting what portion of the federal grants to community colleges can go to administrative costs; the fact that the money is dispersed through program-specific grants as opposed to blanket, TARP-like disbursements, he also points out, will prevent the sort of waste and lack of transparency we have seen with the economic stimulus. But this initiative is a drop in the bucket: a lot more needs to be done to stop the corporatizing trend that has steadily transformed our colleges and universities.

One piece of the solution lies in adjunct and faculty unionization. Non-unionized adjuncts do most of the instructional work in higher education, yet they generally have little job security, rarely receive health and retirement benefits, and are paid about a quarter as much per course as tenured faculty. Many dart from campus to campus to try to earn a living. But those at schools with an adjunct union fare much better: adjuncts at NYU, who unionized in 2004, have been able to negotiate some of the highest salaries for adjuncts and contracts that guarantee continued teaching assignments.
His solution of more unionization is great, but legislation is required to end the worst abuses of adjunct faculty. Such legislation should include:
  • every college or university have at least three-fourths of their faculty members be full time, tenure track
  • that part time faculty get the same pay per class as their full time peers with the same qualifications and length of service
  • that part time non-tenure track faculty be offered at least proportionate benefits compared to their full time tenure track peers
These are necessary not only for the welfare of the faculty but of students. Faculty who are racing around from campus to campus to make ends meet are less likely to be available to students outside of class.

Further, while unions are the best way to raise workers' income, no one should have to negotiate their way out of discrimination and unequal compensation. That should be a matter of law. It is also difficult to negotiate when two classes of workers have been created because the employer can always say that giving to one takes away from another.

Here's my comment I posted on Arana's article:
Thanks for mentioning the abuse of adjunct faculty.

It's ironic that for all our society's bluster about valuing education, we treat those who dedicate their lives to providing it as fools and patsies.

I have to patch together two community college teaching jobs to make a living, and worked eight years before one of my schools offered me health insurance. It took about as long before I could make payments on the student loans for the degrees required to do the job. And my story is not unique.

It is time for this system of abuse to change.

The author's point on the corporatizing of higher ed is also dead on. Wall Street just came close to destroying the world economy--why exactly should we apply that not just failed but deadly toxic model to higher education?




Saturday, July 04, 2009

Obama expands student loan forgiveness to ALL educators

The Obama administration has expanded the student loan forgiveness program, which previously only went to educators in high risk communities, to all educators and in fact, all public servants.

If you make payments for ten years, the rest of your debt is forgiven.

This is coupled with another program, Income Based Repayment (IBR) that will dramatically reduce payments for most borrowers and forgive their loans after 25 years. PLUS loans are not eligible.

The Department of Education has put up an IBR calculator (this link is dead, see update below), so you can see how much your payments will go down. I owe a little over $100,000, and my monthly payments are about $729. I originally only owed about $50,000, but it was so difficult to make the payments regularly until the last couple of years that my debt doubled.

Running my numbers through the IBR calculator, my payments dropped to $450, so I'll end up paying $54,000 more. Under the old system, I would have paid $218,000 more, so I'll save three-fourths. I've already paid $18,000, so I'll still end paying a more than my original debt--but not four times more.

This will definitely have a "trickle up" effect in my case. I'll be able to make a down payment on a house that much sooner, and others will likely do the same or get a new car or appliance sooner than they otherwise would have, which will help get the economy moving again.

For more information, read the Department of Education press release.

Here's the application for IBR if you're repaying your loans directly to the Department of Education. If you have a federally guaranteed loan you're repaying to a bank, contact your lender.

The application for loan forgiveness hasn't been posted yet.

Here's the actual regulation change for forgiveness.

PS: I would like to take credit for this since I wrote a letter asking the Obama administration to do it, but when I read the reg, the change was in the pipe before that.

LATEST UPDATE
March 7, 2014:

Obama has proposed a cap on the amount of student loans that can be forgiven after ten years of payments for public employees.

They claim they're worried about schools and grad students "gaming" the system by piling on debt they know will be forgiven after ten years of payments.

Since I teach at public community colleges and didn't have health insurance or make enough to make regular payments on my student loans (that were more than my rent) for the first ten years I taught, so my original debt doubled through interest, from $50K to over $100K. I have probably paid more in interest than my original debt. If that's gaming the system, I student loan borrowers are the stupidest con men in history.

Please take a second to sign this petition.
MAY 9, 2013:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren bill would lower student loan interest rate to what Wall Street gets from Federal Reserve, 0.75%

Sign White House petition and write your senators and congressional rep and tell them to support it.

PREVIOUS UPDATE:
On March 8,2012 Congressman Hansen Clarke (D-Mich.) introduced H.R. 4170, the Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012
Here's the part that should be of interest to all faculty and our students:Improving Public Service Loan Forgiveness: The act would also provide for Public Service Loan Forgiveness after 60 monthly payments instead of 120. It is impossible for us to overstate how much this would help borrowers who have committed to careers at relatively low-paying public interest jobs, who could actually start saving for their kids' education and perhaps owning their own home half a decade earlier than they anticipated. 
Read the details of the other improvements here. 
If you are reading this, you need to contact your congressmember and senators and tell them to support his bill. It doesn't have to be a long, fancy letter, just say 
I am your constituent, and I want you to actively support and vote for HR 4170, the Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012. 
Even if you don't know who represents you in Congress, if you know your own zip code, you can find their contact information here. 
You could even call 202 225-3121, or these numbers and if you know where you live, they can connect you to your representatives. 
HERE'S THE LINK TO JUST THIS UPDATE 


UPDATE 8/31/14: The original IBR calculator link doesn't work, but I found this one that may not be a government site, but when I ran my numbers through came pretty close to what I'm actually paying.  Use at your own risk.





Saturday, June 06, 2009

administrators think like a bank--faculty think like a credit union


Higher education faculty and administrators continue to butt heads because they see colleges as two very different things. Administrators see them like banks or corporations, and themselves as CEO's, and faculty see college as more like a credit union.

For those who aren't familiar with credit unions, they are owned and run by their employees and customers, so they have a vested interest in seeing that employees are treated fairly, customers are well-taken care of, and of course that the credit union itself continues to be solvent. This is more or less how faculty see the college, as a community of scholars that should take care of all its members. Students should get a good education for their money, faculty should be able to make enough to support their families, and yes even administrators should be fairly compensated for their duties of making sure the electric bill gets paid and enough buildings are built to hold all the classes.

That is profoundly different from the bank or corporate model. A bank is concerned for the financial welfare of shareholders and a small group of senior executives. Customers and lower level employees exist only to enrich that group.

Ideally, market forces could pressure them to provide a similar product to the credit union since one way to make a profit is to provide the best product at the best price.

Unfortunately, there are less admirable ways to reward those shareholders.

For example, they could provide progressively shoddier products for the same price and hope their customers don't notice. This was the path GM and Chrysler took beginning in the 70's. It worked for a while, but now they are teetering on bankruptcy. In higher education, there are any number of ways they can do this. One is by increasing class sizes and converting too many in person classes to online. Administrators actually have the nerve to call increasing class size "productivity" when it is really the opposite--increasing the appearance of education while delivering a diluted version of the reality.

The other way they can reward the few at the expense of the many is relying heavily on underpaid part time workers. This is done more in higher ed than just about any other industry except maybe Walmart. This also creates the false impression of a labor "glut" because underpaid part time faculty work more than a full time load by stringing several jobs together. The few who do get full time jobs are pressured to teach more than a full load, so administrators get their money's worth for what they are forced to pay out in benefits. If both full timers and part timers are overworked, that means fewer total jobs will be available.

Administrators also measure their success in bookkeeping games more than the quality or even quantity of education delivered. Here in California, this is most obvious in the budgeting of "reserves," money given by the state that districts put in the bank instead of spending on education. A small percentage of this is required to cover things they can't cut in bad years like pensions, but districts sock away far more--the highest I heard was something like 25%--and at the same time they will be denying faculty health insurance benefits in labor negotiations, cutting jobs, or even doing away with the school paper at most campuses as happened in one district where I work. This seems an awful lot like the problem with GM and Enron--they got so wrapped up in short term profits that they made crappy products and fired people to look profitable on paper while they were really undermining public trust which eventually leads to no customers, no products, and no profits.

Higher ed and community colleges also ape the corporate practice of giving ever higher salaries to top executives while cutting salaries of faculty or even cutting faculty jobs. At several districts where I worked, the chancellor made a six figure salary, more than the governor of California. This serves two purposes that are both bad for education: one is it makes top administrators as a breed apart from the faculty they work with. People who actually teach are no better than "burger flippers" as the VP at one of my schools said to union leaders. The inflated salary is also necessary because the job requires a rare skill that is cherished in the corporate world as well--being able to harm others without hesitation or losing sleep. They must be able to fire people and deny them things like health insurance solely to pad profits or in the case of community colleges, pad their reserves.

I ran this corporate analogy by a couple of people and one person objected--he said when he worked in the corporate world, he was actually treated and compensated better than he ever had been teaching at community college.

There is another weakness with the analogy as well. The corporate world went through a phase of laying off middle managers, partly to legitimately trim bloat, but also as part of gaming the books to look more profitable than they really were. Community college administrators do the exact opposite. Shortly after one of my districts closed the school paper at two out of three campuses, the new chancellor decided the district needed a new VP, whose salary would be double the budget of the student papers he closed. They also push to replace department chairs, who are faculty, with deans, who are administrators and typically paid far more. Why replace someone with a person paid far more? To extinguish something that has existed at colleges and universities for centuries but hasn't existed in the corporate world, a form of democracy called "shared governance." The idea is administrators have control of money issues, and faculty control all things actually related to teaching. This division of labor has been very successful, but is uncomfortably close to a cooperative, a "socialist" business structure that corporations will not tolerate, and part of the reason why we and NATO invaded Yugoslavia--to forcibly convert the cooperative businesses there to a corporate model that would benefit the few (most living in another country) at the expense of the many. By replacing faculty managers with administrator ones, they are trying to snuff out all expectation in faculty of having control over the job and eventually even over the content they teach.

A final weakness with the analogy is that public universities and colleges have a very different relationship with for-profit businesses than those businesses have with each other. A for-profit business will always try to buy people (labor) and things for the lowest price possible to increase their profits. Public colleges and universities will try to buy people for the lowest price possible (except top execs) but not so with things. This is because they get most of their money from the state but their boards of trustees are composed of local business people who see their position as a way to add to their profits--not by creating a more educated workforce that therefore has more buying power, but by swinging contracts toward themselves or their cronies. For administrators, the payoff is more direct in the form of kickbacks. I have heard stories about this my whole teaching career. One faculty member, now retired, told me he served on a committee that worked for months evaluating software only to be have their choice over-ruled by an administrator and different, more expensive software bought instead. Did the person who made this decision know more than the people who would actually be using it day in and day out?

No.

I actually got to experience kickbacks first hand. I was evaluating a piece of equipment for possible purchase and use in the classroom, and the vendor was dropping off a cart of samples for students to try out, but had one in a box by itself that they handed to me. They said they thought it was important for me to have one to play around with myself. I asked when I needed to return it to them, and they said I didn't. I had no use for the gadget, but they clearly thought it would sway my decision (as if I had the power to decide to buy their stuff). The same thing probably goes on with bigger bribes at the district level.

The most recent case I heard was about a school district that paid more than twice market value for a piece of property in the midst of a real estate glut and collapsed market. What are the odds that part of that overpayment didn't end up in the pocket of the administrator who made the purchase?

Clearly, in the ways that colleges and universities diverge from the corporate model, it is for the worse, and the differences that are good they are trying to undo.

The consequences of choosing the corporate model over the cooperative one are not hypothetical or small.

I was talking to a retired faculty member about the current budget debacle here in California and the misplaced priorities of administrators, and he said he wondered how long it was until the whole education system collapsed too--the way Wall Street already has.

As Wall Street and banks have crumbled, choking on their own greed and incompetence, more and more consumers are realizing that credit unions are a safer and more stable place to put their money. If we trust that model with our money, shouldn't we trust it with our kids' college education too?





Monday, April 06, 2009

even conservative magazine calls student loans a SCAM

In a review of a book on student loans, the conservative National Review pointed out that the system is rigged to benefit lenders more than students and remarkably recommends a solution that I'm pretty sure I first heard from Howard Dean.

Ironically, this is not just a problem for students, but for too many higher education faculty who get in debt up to their eyeballs to get the degrees required to do their jobs only to find that they don't make enough to pay back those loans or at times even have income every month.

KEY EXCERPTS:

Lenders of First Resort
More and more, student lending is becoming a rigged game.

By Robert VerBruggen


But there is a very important story in this book: Collinge, who is himself buried in defaulted debt, explores the alliances that student-loan companies have established with universities and the government. By sharing profits with schools in exchange for preferential treatment, the industry’s biggest players have shielded themselves from free-market competition; and through intense government lobbying, the industry has secured exemptions from laws that apply to other forms of lending. No matter how wrongheaded his analysis, Collinge’s facts should evoke cringes from Americans of all political stripes.

Schools’ relationships with the major lenders will come as a shock to many — especially those who’ve taken advice from purportedly neutral university employees. Through “school as lender” programs, lenders can essentially give schools a cut of the profits in return for financial-aid officials’ steering borrowers their way. (Technically, the school makes the loan, and then the lender buys the debt at a premium.) Lenders often sweeten the deal by offering officials lavish parties and trips. Sometimes, lenders have even run financial-aid call centers on universities’ behalf, with lenders’ employees claiming to represent the schools.

***

Today it’s a fully private entity, but Sallie and other big lenders have used their size and sway on Capitol Hill to their great benefit. For example, while there have long been limits on bankruptcy protection for student loans (some worry that it’s tempting to file for bankruptcy right after graduating), the student-loan industry managed to eliminate bankruptcy protection in 2005. No matter how long it’s been since you took out the loan, and no matter the size to which the debt has ballooned, you typically cannot discharge a student loan in bankruptcy. One can argue that bankruptcy laws in general should be stronger than they are, but it’s hard to make the case that student loans should be treated so differently from every other form of debt.


***

Many other foolish ideas have been adopted. According to federal law, a borrower can only consolidate his student loans once; then he’s stuck with that lender, even if a different lender is willing to pay off the loan and accept a lower interest rate. Also, to punish those who don’t pay their debts fast enough, collectors can have borrowers’ professional licenses taken away. Obviously, without being able to practice in the field for which they borrowed money to train, there’s little hope of these folks’ digging their way out of debt.

***

There are plenty of better ideas for rejiggering the way we pay for college. One is for students to give up a percentage of their income after graduation, instead of making traditional tuition and loan payments. Not only would this go easy on folks who have money troubles (no income, no payments due), it would take the burden off parents and the government. It would also provide schools with a very explicit way to compete on price: With loans, grants, and parental dollars out of the way, a student would have to ask himself if it was really worth X percent of his income to go with college A instead of college B...

***

FULL TEXT

To find out more & take action, go to Student Loan Justice.


Sunday, April 05, 2009

What's it like to be higher ed adjunct faculty?
Tell your story

For decades, higher education has been aping the personnel practices of corporate America and relying more and more on part time, temporary, and non-tenure track faculty, especially to teach the course required for graduation.

While this is great for administrators to free up money in their budget for other things, it can wreck havoc on the lives of those who didn't expect to get rich teaching but did expect to be able to pay their rent and student loan payments every month and know that they'd continue to have a job if they were doing it relatively well.

Various groups have been working on changing this at the state level, and adjuncts and contingent faculty are finally starting to come together at a national level in groups like the New Majority Faculty, which I am a part of.

To help us figure out which things to focus on changing, WE NEED YOUR STORIES.

You can post them as text in the comments of this article or if you are feeling more multimedia, as a video reply to this youtube thread.

Tell us what has happened to you as an adjunct, non-tenure track, part time, temporary (usually all of the above) faculty member in higher education, both on the job and in your personal life as a consequence of having a job.

For example, I told my own story here, and the story of an instructor who resorted to going through the trash for pop cans to make ends meet. I have known instructors who still lived with their parents into their fifties and others who have had marriages unravel because their income didn't live up to their spouse's expectations for someone with their education level.

On the professional front, a friend of mine set up a PACE program for his college, then when the time came to give someone a full-time tenure track job to run it, they hired someone from outside the school (who promptly asked my friend how to do his job since he had padded his resume). Just recently, this instructor was fired from his community college after eighteen years of service, most likely because he was vice president of the part time faculty union.

Your stories will not only help us figure out what to fight for but give us powerful evidence to present to legislators and groups that work on higher education issues that using Walmart labor practices does real harm to real people.

If you wish to remain anonymous, that's fine, though the more specific the details, the more useful your story will be, for example, say what state you are in, whether you are at a two-year or four-year college or research university, public or private, what discipline you teach in, your qualifications to teach, and how long you've been doing it. Any information you don't want to include is okay though.