April
30th 2008
Lifestyles of the lumpen middle-class, Millenial Generation edition

Posted under: jobs, students

Lumpenprofessoriat recently offered some interesting comments on my post last week on book buy-back schemes (and on Ortho’s comments on that post, too.)  Hir post inspired me to write about something that’s been on my mind for several years now, even if it does threaten to out me as a young fogey complaining about “kids these days…and their music, it’s just noise!”  Well, actually, I don’t mind the music so much, but I do have questions about the kids these days. 

LumpenProf writes, “Right now, every cut in student aid and every increase in tuition, fees, parking, textbooks, housing, and food creates a cadre of students who can only afford to look at the bottom line and will approach higher education with the same eye towards cost savings they use in a trip to Wal-mart.”  Ze argues (like Ortho) that students are just responding rationally when they sell their books, although ze disagrees with Ortho’s notion that cooperating in book buyback schemes will bring on the Revolution faster.  “Students are behaving like poorly paid workers. They want payday to get here as soon as possible,” says LumpenProf.  I get this–and don’t entirely disagree–but I want to address the costs of higher education in this post.  There is a lot of money being spent, but I’m afraid it’s not just state legislatures and university administrations that are making bad decisions about investing in higher education.  (The following comments apply only to my university–I realize that there are all kinds of different institutions and all kinds of different college students these days, so your mileage may vary.  I’ll be interested to get your opinions vis-a-vis what you see at your institutions of higher learning, whether you’re a faculty member, a student, or simply an informed and interested member of your community.

A few years ago, when I was fairly new at my current university (my one and only experience with a large, public university), I commented on how many of my students seemed to have full-time or nearly full-time jobs, and how that inevitably interfered with their educations.  Jobs, not their educational needs or personal interests, seemed to dictate their schedules (as in, “I can’t take any afternoon MWF classes because of my job.”  “I have to take all Tuesday-Thursday classes because of my job.”  What if the senior seminar you need is Wednesday at 2 p.m.?  Guess we’ll be seeing you semester after next, too.)  I commented sympathetically about this, saying that I felt sorry that so many of our students had to work so hard, until a senior colleague of mine (who’s a hard-edged libertarian) said, “I don’t feel sorry for them at all.”  I was shocked by what I heard as his callousness–we teach at a large, public university.  Many of our students who seem like traditional, full-time college-aged students have children already, in addition to jobs, and are enmeshed in webs of responsibilities that I (like most of my colleagues) was largely free of until my early thirties.  Many other of our students are in their late twenties to mid-forties, trying to earn that B.A. that eluded them when they partied too hard/got married/had a child/ran out of money the first time around.  My colleague continued, “When I was in college [in the late 1970s] we lived in a dorm.  We didn’t have apartments, we didn’t have cars, we didn’t go out.  We had a an appropriately simple lifestyle.  Most of our students are working to support an adult lifestyle, not to put themselves through school.”

More after the flip…

I took another look around, and have concluded that my tough colleague is probably right.  Although he’s 12 years older than me, we had strikingly similar college experiences.  We both went to small, liberal arts colleges (SLACs) that had a pretty high price tag, and so were privileged in that respect.  But, as he pointed out, once the tuition, room, and board bill was paid, he didn’t really spend money.  I had a part-time campus job to pay for books and travel back home, but my biggest weekly expense was finding quarters to put in the laundry machines.  A cup of coffee at the campus coffee shop was a typical night out, and ordering a pizza or going out to a restaurant was a twice-per-semester splurge.  We didn’t even need cash to buy beer–Historiann went to college in the halcyon days when dorms would throw parties pretty much every weekend, and they got money to do so from student fees, and were even permitted to buy alcohol with that money.  (I know!  It seems like a marvel of a lost world now.  I even went to a high school that until the late 1980s had a “smoking area” for students!  Take your I-Pods and your Google–we had license to drink and smoke from the authorities, and none of us killed ourselves with vodka the way some of you have in the prohibitionist world the Baby Boomers have imposed on us.)

Our students now spend tens of thousands of dollars a year on their college lifestyle–probably close to what it costs to go to a SLAC now (room and board inclusive).  Tuition and fees for state residents at my university are a bargain at $5,598, and about 70 to 75 percent of our students are state residents.  The university’s estimate for student living expenses based on dorm residency is $11,052, which brings the bill for in-state students up to $16,650.  Students could live frugally in this town very well–there is decent public transportation, and bike lanes everywhere (and most off-campus students don’t live more than a mile and a half from campus.)  But, if students skip the dorm, rent for an apartment (even with a roommate), a car payment, gas, insurance, food, and alcohol will cost them more than $20,000 a year, for a grand total of at least $25,598, and probably more if students drink in bars and eat meals at restaurants.  (I include a car payment, insurance, and gas in the total, because students all seem to have new cars and drive them to campus.  I do see a lot of bikes–but not nearly as many as I should see given the climate and the unreasonable expense–financial and environmental–of keeping a car these days.)  Out of state students are spending all of that, plus an additional $13,440, for a grand total of at least $39,000–an outrageous sum to pay to sit in classes that have 100 or 200 students in them for the first two years.  Historiann asks:  At that price, why are you subsidizing crappy landlords, tattoo shops, and bars, instead of putting your money into a better education?

Is it any wonder, then, that academics come last after work, bills, parties, and football and basketball games?  Academics are costing them only about 20 to 25% of their expenses, so students invest their time accordingly.  I’ve long argued that the problem in this state is not that tuition is unaffordable–for most middle-class families, it’s well within reach.  The problem is that students (and their parents) think that it’s OK to get only what they paid for.  Now, Historiann is an optimist, but I don’t think we’re ever going to have a majority of people in this country who will share the academic values that faculty members have.  But, the majority of people respond to financial incentives.  Perhaps if students (or their parents) were paying $20,000 a year in tuition, they’d take their educations more seriously.  They’d come to class, and get better grades (or at least a passing grade, so that they didn’t have to take the course again.)  Parents might actually withhold financial support if their children came home with the sorry grades that many of my sophomores and first-year students earn, and richly deserve, if it meant they were out $20,000 instead of only $6,000.  Or, perhaps they’d keep their slacker kid at home for a year until he really was ready to go to college if the opportunity costs of sending them to school were higher.  (This is something I just don’t get–why parents continue to agree to if not subsidize the underachievers and their party-party lifestyles.  But, one of the problems here clearly is the notion that Baby Boomer parents have bought into the notion that college is a 4, or 5, or 6-year party.) 

By the way, my scheme of charging more is only for people who can afford it–it’s actually part of a radical redistribution plan that would offer generous scholarships to needy students, while working effectively to weed out the slackers and the chuckleheads.  I also think that the university should offer lower tuition to non-traditional students, so as to preserve affordability for people who really must maintain an adult lifestyle.  (Any of you who teach these people know that they’re frequently the most motivated and best students in your classes–even though they’re stressed out by work, kids, and paying for their education themselves.)  I’m also in favor of a graduated tuition plan that rewards students for doing well and returning to campus year after year.  So, a student’s first year might cost $20,000, but then if ze earns a 3.3 or 3.5 GPA, sophomore year would cost only $15,000.  The same GPA success would mean that junior year costs only $10,000, and the senior first semester costs only $3,000.  If a student maintains the high GPA throughout hir career, then last semester senior year is free.

I used to work for a university that did a marketing study that suggested that they should raise tuition to make themselves more attractive.  Why?  Well, instead of doing their middle-class students and their families a favor by keeping tuition and living expenses relatively low for a private university, their students (and potential future students) thought that that meant that the university wasn’t very prestigious or academically rigorous.  Raising tuition, said the marketing gods, would communicate that this is an elite campus, and you’ll get more applications and more acceptances.  And you know what?  The marketing gods were right.  Applications soared, and the students got better as a result. 

Far be it from Historiann to suggest that we should worship the marketing gods.  But, if their tricks can work to find us better, more committed students, then maybe we should work with them.

25 Comments »

25 Responses to “Lifestyles of the lumpen middle-class, Millenial Generation edition”

  1. Indyanna on 30 Apr 2008 at 12:02 pm #

    Wow. This post is a riot (in the Red Grooms, _Ruckus Manhattan_ sense of an unholy tangle of interesting ideas, acute observations, and provocative proposals). It’s hard to know where to begin, or esp. how to begin. Re: the penultimate paragraph, Ursinus College in eastern PA, presided over by a colonial historian who I take it went pretty much straight from the diss. to the executive suite, did exactly that. Raised tuition and saw applications spike almost immediately thereafter.

    On the other point(s), I’ll lead off with the image from the recent education supplement in the Sunday NYT, of a used car-dealerish Drew Faust bursting through the wall with “Our Prices Are Insane! Buy Now, Don’t Pay Later. Up to 100% off.” If college really IS “the new High School,” (as a significant part ot the Ed.D.ocracy seems to think) maybe abolishing tuition entirely is the way to go. You already don’t get what you don’t pay for. My school has jumped on the “one book/one university” concept popular lately with cities and other institutions, with a “Freshman Common Reader.” The choice for next year? Malcolm Gladwell, _Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking_. Nothing like reifying what they already think (blink?) they know about life. What’s that, um, “stuff” worth on the prediction futures market?

  2. GayProf on 30 Apr 2008 at 12:46 pm #

    When I was an undergraduate, I worked full time. My parents contributed zero dollars ($0) to my undergraduate education (mostly because they didn’t have anything to contribute at the time). Even though I had a scholarship that covered tuition + books, I had little choice but to work full time if I wanted to eat and stuff. It was not because GayProf spent his time partying (I didn’t have time because, um, I was working full time and going to school full time).

    I actually think that I was better served having to work a “real” job than many of my academic colleagues. Being a prof is way cushy compared to my time as a secretary.

  3. Historiann on 30 Apr 2008 at 1:20 pm #

    GayProf–at Historiann U., you would have qualified for generous grants to help you pay that $20,000 tuition bill, and you would certainly have earned grades good enough to lower your tuition each year. I take your point about working being good for college students, though–I think studies show that working up to 15 hours a week at a part-time job is good for grades, time management, and development of life skills, but that more than 20 hours a week means that students perform worse in class.

    Indyanna–abolishing tuition will end up abolishing the university. People won’t pay for decent high schools for every child, let along decent universities for all. I say that if people are status-conscious and consumerist in “shopping” for their (or their childrens’) educations, then let’s ride that pony for all its worth. After all, as my accounting shows, they’ll just spend the same money somewhere else, for things of more transient or entirely dubious value.

  4. Sisyphus on 30 Apr 2008 at 1:41 pm #

    Hmm … I haven’t finished Marc Bousquet’s _How the University Works_ yet, but I know he’s got a sizable chunk of his argument about undergrads working — basically what happened to grad students in the 80s and 90s spreading to the undergrad experience. He points out how work-study, for example, is nowhere near high enough a rate to count for much against tuition/fees, esp if you only can get a limited number of hours. Have you looked at his book?

    I’m of two minds about your observations — probably because our U has what is called a “bimodal distribution of students” — we have a very large group of _extremely_ rich students who spend like you wouldn’t believe (lots of sons and daughters of Hollywood bigwigs, here) and a large chunk of very local students whose parents make squat (no middle class to speak of)

    So for every student who admits they were given the choice between a beemer and plastic surgery for a graduation present (don’t get me started!), I have students who work two or three jobs and then try to squeeze two or three quarters worth of classes into the summer session … which isn’t possible to do and pass.

    And that reminds me: how would the tuition remission tied to grades work in relation to grade inflation and grade-grubbing? Would my students who beg and plead that failing will cut off their financial aid money and the obnoxious kids who whine about their A-s suddenly be the same group? What about “soft” departments with high grade distributions for easy work vs “hard,” “rigorous” departments? Wouldn’t this just exacerbate the bleeding-heart TA grade inflation and have low-enrollment departments competing with each other for who has the easiest “A” course?

  5. New Kid on the Hallway on 30 Apr 2008 at 2:31 pm #

    This is interesting, because my experience with large state institutions (or small state institutions) is very different – living in the dorms (at the three institutions I know enough to talk about) was significantly more expensive than living in an apartment, and it was usually the privileged kids who did so. Most of these schools didn’t have enough housing for everyone to live in the dorms. And the students who were working such long hours usually had kids, or had come back to school, or were working to support their families, or like GayProf had no support from their families (and while Historiann U would give them appropriate grants, the real world Us I’ve been at don’t seem to!). I guess I’m not really sure how one would really judge who really “needs” to maintain an adult lifestyle and who doesn’t – it seems a little harsh to say that someone’s not entitled to go to school and maintain an adult lifestyle; why do we get to judge people’s lives outside school in that way? (I may be misunderstanding your point, though.)

    I also gotta say that the students at my SLAC spent plenty of money apart from tuition, room, and board! (I graduated a year later than you did, for reference.) Granted, they might not have needed to, but they still did (I had classmates who were getting $300-400 a month for “expenses” from their families on top of all the tuition/fees at my SLAC in the late 80s – coffee and pizza were NOT limited to twice a semester!). I guess I just don’t think there’s an direct correlation between the percentage of your expenses that education makes up, and valuing education – though I do get your point about how charging more makes something seem more valuable, yes. I’ve just had so many students who come from backgrounds where a college degree is sort of unfathomable (first generation or completely different educational experience), that’s it seems much more about the culture that a student grows up in, rather than how much things cost per se.

    The other thing about jobs is that a lot of students take them not necessarily to pay for stuff, but to get the experience they need to go on in whatever field they want when they graduate, which opens a whole other can of worms. At my SLAC (and probably yours), there weren’t a lot of jobs during the school year that would accomplish this, given its intensely liberal-arts focus (and also the fact that it was in the middle of nowhere, which probably wasn’t the case for you). But now there’s so much focus on the degree as a necessity for getting a job, and making university education a form of vocational training, that jobs take higher priority for reasons that don’t have anything to do with expenses.

  6. Historiann on 30 Apr 2008 at 3:17 pm #

    New Kid–good points. Most large U’s having been building dorms to keep up with enrollment–so Historiann U. would have to go on a major capital fund drive and building spree. And, of course you’re right that there are spoiled rich kids at SLACs. (For some reason, though, my 3 freshman roommates and I were pretty much in the same (poor) boat–actually, I think I was one of the luckier ones who *could* have hit my parents up for a loan if disaster struck, but that was not the case for 2 of my roommates. But, there were the cool, glam girls from New York and the Boston suburbs whose big problem was where should they go this summer because they’re so booooreeddd with Europe…nice problem if you can get it, eh?

    And, Sis: good point about grade inflation. But, grade inflation (and grade grubbing) are perennial issues. Already, people stand to lose scholarship money if their grades dip. I still think it would be worth it to reward the kids that get the good grades and actually privilege their studies. And, you should recommend Historiann U. to your students who are working so hard–they’ll get major tuition breaks, with more to come if they concentrate on their studies and work no more than 15 hours per week.

  7. Knitting Clio on 30 Apr 2008 at 3:57 pm #

    I would say that a large percentage of my students are like GayProf — they work so they can feed/clothe/house themselves and often children/partners/spouses as well. Students can often get aid for tuition and fees but that doesn’t cover the considerable cost of living in the Nutmeg state. We don’t have nearly enough housing for students who want to live on campus, nothing for those with families. We aren’t in a college town – our students come from all over the state to attend classes. This means they need cars, they must have insurance (pretty high for young people), there is a property tax on cars, and as you know, gasoline is going through the roof.

  8. Historiann on 30 Apr 2008 at 4:04 pm #

    Maybe my observations are peculiar to Colorado–the whole state has an economic “bimodal distribution,” to borrow Sisyphus’s words. Those that have it really have the bucks, and those who don’t are really struggling.

  9. The_Myth on 30 Apr 2008 at 4:19 pm #

    I have a crush on Historiann now!

    But to the point, I think an issue no one really wants to state out-right is that, if one is, say, a parent, one’s 1st duty should be to caring for one’s child[ren], not going to school full-time while working full-time.

    It is a rare college or university that doesn’t allow part-time students. I have encountered far too many student-parents who do not have the time to devote to their studies because they have taken too many classes “to finish on-time!” They often fail 1-2 courses per semester on this [very bad] strategy…and no one’s willing to step up and say, “You know, it’s probably not a good idea to take a full courseload and work 2 part-time jobs.” If a student has demonstrated s/he can do, then go for it! But I am pretty sure many of us have encountered more than a few who simply couldn’t.

    Likewise, I’ve encountered way too many students who juggle a job, school, and partying who always complained about books being too expensive, homework that’s too time-consuming, and just how *hard* school is, when, pretty much, that’s all part of the college experience. Earning a bachelor’s degree isn’t exactly supposed to be easy, ya know?

  10. Historiann on 30 Apr 2008 at 5:12 pm #

    The Myth–yes, some students do try to do it all, which means that they can’t do anything really well. But, most of my returning students who have to work and/or have families take only 2-3 courses at a time, rather than trying to go full-time. I still have more sympathy for them than I do Joe or Jane Partyanimal. (Mostly because they rarely, if ever, ask for extensions or special favors!) The returning students are usually pretty hard-core, although there are exceptions.

  11. dance on 30 Apr 2008 at 5:26 pm #

    The bimodal distribution is also what you get at elite SLACs (like the one I went to). But Harvard isn’t actually lowering prices, are they? What I’ve read sounds like they are aiming for a more realistic understanding of financial need so that the middle class doesn’t get squeezed out, which is what is currently happening. In general, I believe in the “high tuition plus lots of financial aid” model for universities, but need has to be carefully calculated and there has to be money for grants over loans. GayProf’s situation should not happen. Sisyphus’s local poor students should be getting grants with moderate loans that meet their needs. The part-time working parents should have their responsibility for raising children calculated in their need. It also has to be publicized that this is how it works (part of Harvard’s simple “you don’t pay if you earn under $100K” mantra) because few people understand that some colleges will give poor people cash to attend.

    When I went to college, private universities included home equity in their calculation of parental assets, which the FAFSA didn’t. Which basically meant the private unis were always asking most parents for more than they could actually spend out of pocket, so it wasn’t just that the state university had a smaller price tag, but that it assessed a lower demand on the parent. If that’s still the case, I’m sure it’s a big part of the middle class squeeze.

  12. Historiann on 30 Apr 2008 at 5:51 pm #

    Great points, dance, all of them. I think Harvard can afford to charge zero tuition–its brand isn’t in any danger of eroding. (It really has paid off handsomely to be a major landowner in Cambridge and Boston since 1638!)

    It’s kind of amazing that $100,000 a year in salary is considered a dividing line for the haves and have-nots at Harvard. $100,000 to me is a staggering sum–one I don’t think I’ll ever crack in my lifetime, not unless I get offered an endowed chair at RichieRich U. (Unlikely!)

  13. ej on 30 Apr 2008 at 7:24 pm #

    I currently teach at a university that is particularly attractive to non-traditional students (for many reasons) and they are among my favorites! I have no complaints about them, because they seem to at least have a sense that they are paying for their education.

    I do have to say, however, that overall, I find students today have a credit mentality-they’re not really spending money today, they’re charging it (ie taking out loans). So rational ideas like actually dropping a course they’ve stopped attending don’t really appeal. As a result, they end up paying full price for a course that they don’t get credit for, when dropping by the deadline would have been as easy as logging on to the university website and hitting submit. Unlike in my day, when dropping a course meant that you actually had to face the professor of said course, which was scary!

    Whether tuition is high or low, if students really felt a dent in their pocket (not that of their parents or some company financing their education) I think they would be inclined to take it more seriously.

  14. Indyanna on 30 Apr 2008 at 7:46 pm #

    A major landowner in Cambridge that was using anonymous shell entity go-betweens a decade ago to buy parcels cheap across the river in Alston (from unknowing small entrepreneurs) to assemble land for a campus expansion, too!

    So many good points. On dorm building: Sometimes these projects are branding exercises to spike up applicant pools that have been trained to think of education in real estate terms. But they can also be monument building projects for careerist, mobile administrators. My school is literally knocking down every dorm on campus in an eight-year cycle known as the “Residential Revival” to build clusters of eye-catching buildings known as Suites-on-(Your Street Name Here). They look great on campus tours, but parents probably wouldn’t want to have seen them under construction. All pre-fab wood framing, and not a drop of masonry or metal in them. God help your kid when the first candle tips over. The vanished dorms include perhaps the only buildings on campus named after women, including the only six story college residence hall I ever knew of built with funds donated by a retired history professor!

    Meanwhile, the classroom buildings remain future Superfund sites that no high school parents here in embittered, bypassed small-town Pennsylvania would ever allow a school board to stick their kids in in a K-12 environment. About the new Suites: two kids waiting behind us on the line to get into the “Big Dog” event the other week said they’re staggeringly more expensive to live in than the old ones. Your feet go right through interior walls as your “damage deposit” evaporates before your eyes. But they’ll look great on the c.v’s of some upwardly mobile administrators. The macroeconomics of university capital-utilization strategy and the microeconomics of family educational planning are two elliptical spheres that really need to be intersected and figured out.

  15. DV on 30 Apr 2008 at 11:38 pm #

    I think “ej” made a good point about the disconnect between many students and the money they’ve invested in their education. I taught at University of “State” for several years and always asked students on the first day how much they were paying for my class. Only one student was ever able to respond (and he was a zealous non-trad). Most students at U of S were young, traditional “college experience” types whose parents footed the bill (or who took out loans). I would add that here at State University, the situation is reversed – most of the students have families, jobs, and are the first-generation in college. They have a lot of demands on their time, attention, and finances – and they know how much they’re paying (and they don’t want loans if they can avoid them). All the same, overall, they’re not that much more invested in their classes than students at U of S. They see the class as a grade which produces a degree which, many believe, will get them to that golden ring: a better-paying local job.

  16. Knitting Clio on 01 May 2008 at 5:14 am #

    Myth’s remarks about why students go to school rather than take care of their children overlooks a number of factors, not the least of which is the fact that most primary caregivers are women. Why should they defer their education? Also, what about single mothers who have been run out the clock on TANF and want to get an education so they can get out of dead end, low wage jobs?

    As to the problem of too many courses — at my university, going part-time costs more per credit than going fulltime (a minimum of 12 credits). Getting a full financial aid package usually means taking a minimum of 12 credits. Until recently, we had the problem of students signing up for 12 credits to get financial aid, and sticking with those 12 credits despite having full-time jobs, families and so forth, which usually meant failing at least one course. Now they are able to withdraw from 3 credits while still being considered fulltime. This has significantly improved retention and graduation rates.

    In short, I’m really disappointed with the underlying elitism of this discussion.

  17. dance on 01 May 2008 at 7:21 am #

    Uh, I got that $100K from Harvard wrong. Sorry. Actually, it’s $60K and it’s free, significant reductions for $180K. Official Info (10% in the FAQ, which looks pretty reasonable). And they do now leave out home equity.

    I’m never going to hit $100K either—but if I were married to another professor, I could expect gross salary to be $100K, reasonably. As family income, it doesn’t seem that elitist a number to me.

  18. Historiann on 01 May 2008 at 7:43 am #

    KC–good points about the price break students get for going full-time. It does penalize students who try to do it 3-9 credits at a time.

    I agree too with ej’s and DV’s points about students being disconnected with the costs of their education. Sadly, many of them are in school on loans, and will be paying for whatever opportunities they take advantage of (or squander) until they’re well into their 30s (or even 40s).

    And dance, thanks for the correction. Good news is that this year, I might price myself out of getting a free Harvard education for any theoretical children I might have!

  19. Rad readr on 01 May 2008 at 8:36 am #

    Sorry to her you’re in a department with a libertarian, Historiann.

    Two quick points: you hit it about some universities that raise tuition to keep up with the Joneses. I used to work for a university that will remain nameless in Oxford, Ohio that raised it’s in-state tuition from $6,000 or so to $15,000 (with a big grant — let’s say $9,000 — for all in-state residents) so it would look like students were getting more aid. The idea here was to compete in price and aid with privates.

    As far as work, has anyone figured out how much of the student working life is devoted to buy iPods? I know that some are working for food and rent — but we have also gone from dorms and bad cafeteria food (in the old days) to the country-club university. Rec centers. Food courts. Apartment-style living. And I think we as faculty need to reiterate point that h. makes — studies should come first.

  20. Historiann on 01 May 2008 at 8:53 am #

    Rad–yes, I do work with a Libertarian! But, I’m over that phase of my life. (He doesn’t subscribe to Reason, at least not last time I discussed it with him, although he reads it on-line.) Everything is very simple for Libertarians, very clear-cut, kind of like being an intellectually incurious puritan. Are you a loser? It’s your fault. Are you a winner? Enjoy! You don’t owe anybody anything.

    (Exaggerated–only slightly–for humorous effect.)

    Good point about the inflated expectations of dorm life. That university in Oxford, OH was a leader in that particular movement, I believe. Universities *do* provide a lot more for students than in the old days of un-wired dorms, bad food, and when your “laptop” was a spiral notebook.

  21. Mary on 01 May 2008 at 10:57 am #

    Maybe it would be helpful for a student to cash in here. I can’t provide hard data, but I can tell you’ve what I’ve seen in the last four years as a undergrad and now grad student at historiann’s illustrious state U and various other U’s around the country I’ve visited. I think that adhering to this so-called college lifestyle depends on several things: type of institution, circle of friends, and personal ambitions.

    In my experience, some institutions foster the college lifestyle more than others. Competitive liberal arts colleges and elite public universities seem to do so more than your average state U. And I think that this is more a result of student demographics than university policy. These types of institutions seem to attract students from solidly bourgeois families who are used to (and often expect) a certain standard of living.

    I think that your circle of friends can also greatly influence your spending habits. If you get involved with a crowd that values the college lifestyle than you are much more likely to value it yourself. I consider myself fortunate to been party of a fairly academic group of friends. I think only one of my friends purchased an iPod with her own money and that was during a summer splurge—the rest either received them as birthday/Christmas gifts from parents or don’t have them (including me).

    The other thing I’ve noticed and I really am not trying to stereotype here is that student’s personal ambitions seem to greatly impact spending habits as well. Students who may have grown up lower-middle class or middle class hoping to score big finance or advertising jobs seem to outspend us liberal arts people.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that this “college lifestyle” certainly doesn’t exist for everyone. Some of us have been able to keep down debt by going to state schools and not going out. And college certainly isn’t the “party” it is for some of our peers. The 11,000 dollars estimated for living expense is steep though historiann—I was able to do it for about 5,000 and I don’t feel like I went without. Alright, I need to limit my blogging historiann, I have final papers to finish.

  22. Historiann on 01 May 2008 at 11:33 am #

    Mary–thanks for the info. I certainly didn’t mean to paint all college-aged students with the same broad brush–at a university with 27,000 students, there certainly are a lot of differences among students.

    It’s interesting to hear that you think one’s major (in addition to one’s peer group, though perhaps they’re interrelated) is a big determinant of the degree of luxury in one’s college “lifestyle.” Is it just simply that finance and accounting majors expect to have a bigger payday after school, and so they don’t mind borrowing against that future to finance a fat lifestyle while in college? Is it that people who major in “money” majors come from wealthier families who subsidize their children’s educations more than most other families? Or is is that Liberal Arts majors are naturally more studious and cautious about money because they value other things in life? (I’m sure it’s probably not as simple as choosing A, B, or C.)

  23. Mary on 01 May 2008 at 2:15 pm #

    Well, I think like you said its not as simple as A, B, or C. I some finance/accounting majors say they need to expect to receive 60 or 70 grand right out of the gate. I also think that people whose parents have done well in business tend to gravitate towards that field as well. So yeah, I think those are all plausible reasons.

  24. The_Myth on 02 May 2008 at 9:53 am #

    I think Knitting Clio’s point noting the underlying elitism of the discussion is apt because she seems resistant to accept the reality that college is an elite privilege. It is not a common right. It is an expensive, time-consuming prospect that does not, by default, even guarantee higher income (although it does correlate to it).

    A working mom who splits her time between school, work, and child care might or might not be splitting that time appropriately. KC’s post seems to imply that these mythical working mothers shouldn’t be forced to “defer their education” for financial reasons. If a certain individual cannot be “super-mom” or “super-dad” or “super-student” then some choice must be made and priorities set. The choice to become a parent was the option not chosen for deferment. If the juggle is resulting in balls being dropped, I for one would prefer that the baby be held while school falls by the way-side…at least for awhile.

    After all, we do live in a time when having a child is, for the most part, a choice [barring unforeseen surprises...which usually result from choices].

    Now, as to the issues with “financial aid” [which really just means loans for many students], I think that’s a whole other can of worms because some schools say 9 credits is full-time, others 12, and yet others 15. This is where a student doing his/her own homework to determine the best fit for individual educational needs.

  25. Baudrillard's Bastard on 03 May 2008 at 8:40 am #

    plagiarism as a form of resistance…

    Lumpen Prof is right: the relationship of teacher to student parallels the relationship between boss to worker. Teacher demands student to produce papers, exams, quizzes, and reports. Teacher then evaluates the products of student’s labor. The relatio…