I received my M.S. and Ph.D. from a Land-Grant Institution where my external funding brought in tens of thousands of dollars to the University. I traveled to regional, national, and international conferences and educational workshops as a student to present my original research as well as educate myself. At these conferences my institution is represented as a place that promotes its students. Sends its students to far away countries to meet new people and learn. Educates its students and does their best to ensure that they are gaining a breadth of knowledge only possible with these types of opportunities. After graduation I represent my institution by showing others that hard-working critical thinkers come from this University.
I’m sorry to say that, at the moment, I do not feel supported by my institution, or any other for that matter. I gave 6 years of my life to this place. My literal blood, sweat, and tears. I volunteered on committees and recruiting events. I represented my institution in outreach events for the public. I spread the word for years about how great this place was to recruit good students and staff. I worked for peanuts, taking out loans even in grad school because, honestly, who can live on $13,000 a year? During my Ph.D. I was awarded a fellowship that bumped my pay up substantially to $27,000 a year. Throughout this time I received around $10,000 in tuition waivers yearly. $27k a year isn’t quite peanuts but it’s certainly not enough to do more than simply live on. I don’t think I took a single trip or vacation during grad school that wasn’t funded by my family or done on the cheap somehow. Conferences were my vacations because that’s the only way I could “afford” to travel anywhere. That is over 6 years of constant work with not enough money to play. I won’t get into the details here but mental health is declining significantly for students and the current system is already unsustainable.
So what would this tax bill mean for people like me? It would mean that my taxes would have been more than double what they already were while in school. I would have gone from scraping by with loans to scraping by, taking out loans, and probably selling things like my car or my furniture, living on whatever I could find curb-side (don’t knock it until you’ve seen my couch finds!) My parents are not rich. They don’t have the money to support me. Throughout undergrad I worked two jobs and still had to take out an amount of loans that shames me to say aloud, so I won’t. Am I supposed to drown myself in even more debt to do something that directly benefits my University and the general public?
What will it take to finally get some support from the institutions we are working so hard to represent? Universities all over the U.S. depend on the groundbreaking research done by students. They depend on overhead from grants. They recruit good people by putting us in the forefront as their successes. Yet here is this atrocious bill that will all but bankrupt current students and prevent anyone from a low or middle class income from pursuing higher education. And nobody in the public education system has said a word.
This tax bill will destroy higher education and undo the years of work many have done to ensure opportunities for underrepresented groups. This bill puts higher education back to the system where only upper class individuals can succeed. It is a pathetic excuse at “reform” that does nothing to protect those who are trying to push this country forward.
Look, I know you also depend on government funding and maybe your excuse is to not rock the boat. “If we speak up we may lose our funding and not be able to provide any education for anyone” you’ll say. I call B.S. I have watched my institution speak out about horrific bills in the past. Your word means something. This is an opportunity to support the people you claim to serve. So speak up. Condemn this bill. Or just DO SOMETHING. Support your faculty and students. Don’t just sit in the background while your employees hang by a thread and wonder whether they’ll be able to go to school next year. Provide some guidance. Work to establish programs to help these students. Do literally anything. Except sit there.
Hopeless in Higher Education