Poor Students, Rich Presidents

Among the myriad benefits of a college education, perhaps one of the largest barriers to a fulfilling student experience is debt. Although college is advertised as the ultimate bridge to future opportunities, it is certainly possible to get by with a trade job. Colleges and universities offer a package of professional development, safety, and services, whereas many technical schools pose as a pragmatic alternative.

Of course, the former assuages the concerns of middle class parents and subsequently drains their savings accounts. This demographic is the target market for liberal arts colleges in particular, and so these institutions direct their plans and actions to increase their share in the market. How does this affect current students, in terms of both debt and institutional practices?

It means that students end up paying five-figure tuition fees for a lot of unnecessary things (such as unsustainable grass maintenance) while acquiring massive debt along the way. Most college graduates don’t pay off their loans until their thirties, inhibiting the opportune future that many students envision.

It also means that the college administration gives a false impression of concern for the student body, yet it’s real function is to enforce the interests of the institution. I have seen this play out in matters of diversity, for example, when an administrator engages with a marginalized group of students but fails to consider their input outside the parameters of bureaucracy. This is nothing but lip service.

Another sinister outcome of these institutional prerogatives is that, while students continue to lose financial security, the college president makes immense bank. At my college his salary is speculated to be over $400,000 annually, and he lives in a massive home that could easily house two families. Moreover, the president’s history in various economic and bureaucratic organizations grants him a wealthy lifestyle.

The amount of wealth the college president holds is absolutely unnecessary for anyone living in the US; the university could benefit from decreasing his salary. Regardless of his contribution, it is a matter of priority. Will the college continue to pay a single person excessive remittance, or will it choose to help those in need: poor students and working class employees.

These problems don’t exist in a vacuum, either, and are symptomatic of broader capitalist developments. With increasing state investment in public education comes decreases in market shares for small, private liberal arts colleges. This crisis will necessitate action to attract consumers and cut costs. The question becomes, then, how does the institution approach the situation?

I have no solution for surviving this coming crisis, but it seems that the school is choosing to cut low level employees as a short term plan. Many groups attempt to do “more with less”employees, which just places stress on workers and lowers the quality of labor. This will not help the institution in the long term and undermines the supposed integrity advertised to parents.

The university will also struggle with raising profits through innovative changes and increasing economies of scale (i.e. producing a greater quantity of commodities for higher returns). Honestly, I’m not entirely sure how it will overcome this challenge. I think it will be necessary for small liberal arts colleges to somehow become public, but I foresee no alternative solutions.

I’m just a poor college student tryin’ to get outta here before the shit hits the fan.

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