Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

'Highly Educated Paupers': For Many Young Scholars, Exorbitant Student Loan Debt Can Mean a Lifetime of Hardship

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

'Highly Educated Paupers': For Many Young Scholars, Exorbitant Student Loan Debt Can Mean a Lifetime of Hardship

Article excerpt

The times, they are a changing. So much so that, if the current economic downturn continues, with its attendant credit freeze--coupled with the rapid inflation of college tuition and dwindling Pell Grants--this country may see a return to the days when the vast majority of Americans were unable to attend college. As well, an undeniable and unthinkable consequence of this would be less diversity in university classrooms, both in the student ranks and at the faculty podium.

Case in point, had grants and, to a larger extent, student loans, not been available to this writer, even an associate degree would have been an impossible dream, let alone a doctorate. Indeed, defending my dissertation during the summer of 2001 was one of my greatest accomplishments.

I had fought the good fight and lived to talk about it. Ready to take on the world, I embarked upon my academic career in New York City. My first dose of reality was when I absorbed the starting annual salaries for new academicians: anywhere from $50,000 to $60,000. Senior faculty can earn six-figure salaries, but make no mistake, the trek from assistant professor to full professor is long and arduous.

And few ever reach the ranks of college or university president, nearly one-third of whom earn more than $500,000 annually, according to a survey recently published in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Meanwhile, many young scholars are confronted with crippling student loan debt. This may not be the case for alumni of private institutions, with their small annual doctoral crops, and where most if not all of the students are fully funded. But graduates of large public university systems--with larger annual admission rates--have usually had to depend upon student loans, mostly unsubsidized.

As a prom graduate of Temple University's world-renowned Department of African American Studies, mine is the latter scenario. Consequently, the years since graduation have provided an unanticipated postdoctoral education, which I would just as soon have for-gone. Indeed, I have become an expert on the long-term consequences of large student loan debt.

Sure, I had prior knowledge of the pay scale and the hierarchy for academics, but I figured that there would be many avenues for supplemental income, like writing, consulting, etc. Boy, was I in for a rude awakening! The truth is that few scholars garner lucrative publishing deals, and the consultancies come only with time.

Of course there are the exceptions, like President-elect Barack Obama and his wife Michelle, who were famously able to retire their student loan debt after becoming millionaires from the proceeds of his best-selling memoirs. …

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