Thursday, May 10, 2012

Changing Our Minds: Debt, Education, and Marriage for All

--As an administrator, one of my favorite duties is making classroom observations.  I'm ostensibly there to observe the faculty teaching, but of course, I also get to watch the students in action.  So many of them are engaged with the subject at hand, even if it's far away from the major they came to school to study.  So many bright minds!  It's good to remember that, especially as I worry about the future of higher education.

--In the abstract, it's easy for me to wonder if a college degree continues to be worth the cost, especially when I read stories like this one, about Ph.D.s on food stamps or hear the various NPR stories I've been hearing about students with enormous debt who can't find jobs.

--Those stories make me ponder other questions, like who on earth decides that taking on $150,000 in debt is a good idea for an undergraduate degree--or a graduate degree.  I know that I'm channeling my grandmother who came of age in the Great Depression and had a horror of debt.  Even though I don't cut apart cereal boxes so that I can re-use the cardboard and wash the wax paper surrounding the cereal so that I can use that too, I do share her caution when it comes to debt.

--I come by my caution honestly.  When I was young and had racked up credit card debt that I despaired of ever getting free of, I had an "embrace debt" philosophy.  I thought I would be in debt forever and so why not take on more so that I could have the stuff I wanted?

--Happily, that phase did not last long.  My spouse went back to school and we re-organized our debt.  And we got aggressive about paying it off.

--We're rather obsessed with not taking on new debt.  If you hung out with me for a week, you might notice that our cars are over 10 years old and I'm not wearing designer clothes.

--You might also ask me why I'm spending so much money on salads at Panera or other restaurants in any given month.  I'll eat a salad, and enjoy it, if I buy it at a restaurant where someone else will do the chopping and assembling.  It's a great way to get a lot of veggies.  But if I bought salad ingredients for my house, they'd molder in the crisper.

--Here's the best piece of advice I've ever gotten to get my spending under control.  Figure out how much you make an hour.  Then, when you consider buying something, calculate how many hours of work you're paying for the object/experience.  Chances are good you'll say that it's not worth 2-4 hours of work to obtain said object/experience.

--Once upon a time, I'd have told you that I believe in education for the sake of education.  I still do, but I'm not sure that education for the sake of education should leave one saddled with much debt.

--I used to think that some debt was good, while other debt was bad.  I may be changing my mind.  If President Obama can change his mind (or evolve), so can I.

--David Brooks wrote one of the better essays on marriage--gay and otherwise--that I've ever read.  And it's still available online!

--He mentions the sad state of U.S. marriage statistics (although divorce rates are improving--80% of marriages last--that 50% average takes the # of marriages in a given year and the # of divorces--it doesn't mean that if you marry someone this year that you have a 50% chance of divorce). 

--We're a nation that blabbers a lot about the sanctity of this and that, but our behaviors belie our talk.

--Brooks says, "The conservative course is not to banish gay people from making such commitments. It is to expect that they make such commitments. We shouldn't just allow gay marriage. We should insist on gay marriage. We should regard it as scandalous that two people could claim to love each other and not want to sanctify their love with marriage and fidelity."

--I would go a few steps further.  I don't know that I believe that marriage needs to be between 2 people.  Why not 3?  Why not 4? 

--But I do believe that more of us who enter into marriage should see it as a covenant, a covenant between the people making it, the people assembled to witness it, and the God (or Gods, depending on your belief system) who created us all.

--Unlike many Protestants, I see marriage as a sacrament.  But that's a subject for another day.  Or another blog.  Go to this post on my theology blog if you'd like an essay along those lines.

--On this day in 1869, the Transcontinental Railroad was completed.  It's one of those achievements that once seemed impossible, a project that faced all sorts of complications and once finished, had all sorts of unforeseen consequences, both positive and negative.  It seems a fitting metaphor for all sorts of modern day projects and issues.


Hannah Stephenson said...

What interesting ideas here.

I read that PhD someone who is considering working toward a PhD (for job security, ironically....not sure if I'm actually going to do it), it was very scary.

A proud day yesterday for symbolic civil rights. And I'm excited for the legal changes that must now happen.

dawidtailor said...

I'd accept told you that I accept in apprenticeship for the account of education. I still do, but I'm not abiding that apprenticeship for the account of apprenticeship should leave one saddled with abundant debt.

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Kristin said...

Hannah, I think the trick is to find a PhD program that will give you financial support so that you emerge as debt free as possible. Otherwise, a PhD is just too risky a chance, I think. Especially one in the humanities. I've heard horror stories from the STEM fields too, so even that's not risk free.