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The Pedagogy of Debt

Jeffrey Williams

College Literature, 33.4, Fall 2006, pp. 155-169 (Article)

Published by West Chester University DOI: 10.1353/lit.2006.0062

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The Pedagogy of Debt

Jeffrey Williams

1. The Shameful Secret of Higher Education

Jeffrey Williams teaches in the literary and cultural studies program at Carnegie Mellon University. His publications include Critics at Work: Interviews 1993-2003 (2004). He is one of the editors of the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (2001), and editor of the minnesota review.

am a statistic. I am one of 100,000,000 on the rolls of student debt. Every month I write out a check for $660 to Sallie Mae. I simply abbreviate the entry in my checkbook as S-M. It hurts. At 46 and fifteen years out of grad school, I still owe around $9,000 from my graduate school GSLs (I could not afford to pay them at first, so took the maximum four years of forbearance and started to pay them in 1994). Now I also owe PLUS loans for my daughters undergraduate education, making a combined total of $34,000, for a payment of $660 a month for the next ten years. Besides that, my daughter, who graduated in 2002, herself owes about $25,000. Confession, memoir, and autobiography have been common in literary criticism over the past decade, but, despite all the various kinds of self-exposure people make, from sleeping with ones professors to secretly devouring romances, debt is not the kind of thing that people usually talk about. Contrary


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to reputation, it is not sex that is the great forbidden; people talk about sex all the time, in jokes, in flirtatious ripostes, in bragging or bemoaning, in comparing notes. Rather, the forbidden is to talk about money. By and large, in the quintessentially middle class precincts of academe, people dont descend to talk about bread basket issues, like salary and debt. Its crass, like clipping coupons. And it is shameful, reflecting your failingyou must have done something wrong, youre a spendthrift or youre not good enough to make more. But I think we need to talk about student debt more, especially now.We need to talk about it because it affects so many of those in the classroom seats in front of us and because it has increased so precipitously. It is in fact the new paradigm of college funding. Consequently it is also, or will soon be, the new paradigm of early to middle adult life. Gone are the days when the state university was as cheap as a lap top, considered a right like secondary education. Now it is, like most social services, a largely privatized venture, and loans are the way that individuals frequently pay for it. Debt is not just a check every month but colors the day-to-day experience of my life, whether I live in a smaller or larger apartment, whether I can buy a house (not yet), whether I can travel to Europe (not since grad school), whether I can eat out (too often considering the debt). It has only been in the past few years, over a decade out of graduate school and a full professor, that I can end each month without going farther into debt. My debt to the company store has almost ended, but it is just beginning for most of my students, and they owe far more than I did. Debt surely tones the experience of my daughters life. She has a job in film in New York, but it only pays about 20k a year. Im proud to subject my friends to the video where you can see her name in the credits, but, as anyone who is familiar with New York real estate knows, the take-home from 20k barely pays half the rent for a small apartment. The owners of the film company cajole her that she is paid partly in credits (shes whats called a Director of Development, which is a like an acquisitions editor in publishing), and I console her that its better than grad school (she doesnt have to teach comp, and she already has an actual, full-time job). But it determines the texture of her life, whether she can have a slice of pizza, a pack of Ramens, or a proper meal for dinner, and how long she can wait to go to the doctor when the sore throat feels like strep. To be sure, my particular circumstances are somewhat anomalous; most of my colleagues have children at a later age. Still, I was relatively lucky in the great academic job lottery, and as a full professor, I make a decent salary, $25,000 above the mean for American households. Hailing from the work-

Jeffrey Williams


ing classes, Ive made it, attaining the gold of a secure, professional perch. But this is the American dream? Over the past decade, there has been an avalanche of criticism of the university, especially of its corporatization. Most of it focuses on the impact of corporate protocols on research, the reconfiguration of the power structure of administration and faculty, and academic labor. Rightly so, but little has addressed the privatization of student debt. We tend to focus on the things that affect our experience rather than students experience. More than half the students attending university receive, along with their BA or BS, a sizeable loan payment book.We need to deal with debt.
2. The Company Store

The average undergraduate student loan debt in 2002 was $18,900. It more than doubled from 1992, when it was $9,200. It has doubtless increased since. Added to this is charge card debt, which averaged $3,000 in 2002, boosting the average total debt in 2002 to about $22,000. One can reasonably expect that it is nearer $30,000 now.The standard term of payment is fifteen years, so the amortized amount will probably climb to $60,000 or considerably more, depending on future interest rates, leeched out in payments of $300 or $400 or $500 a month. Bear in mind that this does not include other private loans, nor the debt that parents take on to send their children to college.1 Federal student loans are a relatively new invention. The Guaranteed Student Loan (GSL) program only began in 1965, under the mantle of Lyndon B. Johnsons Great Society. It was intended to provide supplemental aid to students who otherwise could not attend college, or so that they did not have to work excessively while in school. In its first dozen years, the amounts borrowed were comparatively small, in large part because college was comparatively inexpensive, especially public universities. From 1965 to 1978, the program was a modest one, issuing about $12 billion in total. By the early 1990s, the program grew immodestly, jumping to $15-20 billion a year, and now it is over $40 billion a year, representing the majority of aid that the federal government provides.2 The immediate reason that debt has increased so much and so quickly is that tuition and fees have increased exponentially, at roughly three times the rate of inflation. Tuition and fees have gone up from an average of $924 in 1976, when I first went to college, to $4,755 in 1997, when my daughter first went, and to $6,067 in 2002.The average encompasses all institutions, from community colleges to Ivies.At private universities, the average jumped from $3,051 to $17,229 to $22,686. The more salient figure, tuition, fees, room, and board (though not including other expenses, like books or travel to and


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from home), went up like a bottle rocket from $2,275 in 1976, $3,101 in 1980, $6,562 in 1990, to $10,818 in 2000 and $12,111 in 2002. This has put a disproportionate burden on students and their families hence loans. The median household income for a family of four was about $24,300 in 1980, $41,400 in 1990, and $54,200 in 2000. As a point of comparison, when I went to Columbia in 1976, tuition and fees were about $4,000 and total costs less than $7,000, while my father made about $25,000 a year, a modest but comfortable salary, working as a dispatcher for a cement plant. In 1997 when my daughter entered Barnard (her diploma is from Columbia), tuition and fees were about $22,000 and the total $32,000, while my salary as an associate professor (at a state university) was around $38,000. In addition to the debt that students take on, there are few statistics on how much parents pay and how they pay it. My parents did not have to take any loans, whereas I, like many other parents in the 1990s, did. (The primary form of federally-backed loans that students take are Stafford loans; the federal loans that parents take are Federal Parents Loans or PLUS.) Another way that has become common for parents to finance college is through home equity loans and home refinancing.While it is difficult to measure these separately, paying for college no doubt forms part of the accelerating indebtedness of average American families. There used to be a saying:Im working my way through college. Now it would be impossible to work your way through college unless you have superhuman powers. In a particularly illuminating comparison, Marc Bousquet (2004) notes that, during the 1960s, a student could work 15 hours a week at minimum wage during school and 40 during summer, and pay his or her public university education; at an Ivy or like private school, it would have been about 20 hours a week during school. Now, one would have to work 52 hours a week all year long, even during school; at an Ivy League college you would have to work 136 hours a week all year. Hence the need for loans as a supplement, even if a student is working and parents have saved. In addition to the steep rise in debt, students are also working more hours during schooloften 15-20 hours a week, and many students are working far more. My focus here is on debt and its vicious cycle, but it goes hand in hand with the rise in student worktime.You dont need a PhD to realize that neither cultivates good educational conditions. The reason tuition has increased so precipitously is more complicated. Sometimes politicians blame it on the fickleness or inefficiency of academe, but most universities, especially state universities, have undergone retrenchment if not austerity measures for the past twenty years (for instance, in the five years I was at the University of Missouri, it experienced not only stagnant funding but give-backs during two years, where the university had to

Jeffrey Williams


return 5-10% of its allocated funding during the year, and in fifteen years at East Carolina and Missouri there were six years that saw no faculty raises because of freezes or reductions in state funds). The reason tuition has increased is in large part a significant reduction of federal funding to states for education and direct state allocations, in real dollars, to colleges and universities, and states fund a far smaller percentage of tuition costs. In the immediate postwar years, states funded around 80% of their universities; now the figure is nearer 30%, and at major public universities often nearer 15%. Universities have turned to a number of well-known channels to replace the lost funds, such as technology transfers and other partnerships with businesses, and seemingly endless fund-raising through donations, but the steadiest way, that is replenished each fall like the harvest with each new freshman class, is through tuition. While state legislators might flatter themselves on their belt-tightening, this is a shell game, sliding the cost elsewheregenerally from the public tax roll to students and their parents.This represents a shift in the idea of higher education from a public entitlement to a private service. The post-World War II idea, forged by people like James Bryant Conant, the president of Harvard and a major policy maker, held that the university should be a meritocratic institution, not just to provide opportunity to its students but to take advantage of the best and the brightest to build America.To that end, the designers of the postwar university kept tuitions low, opening the Ivy gates to record numbers of students, particularly from classes previously excluded (the ratio of funding for state universities was roughly 4:1, so that the state paid $800 while a student paid $200 for every $1000 of tuition). I have called this the welfare state university because it instantiated the policies and ethos of the postwar, liberal welfare state.3 Now, the paradigm for university funding is no longer a public entitlement primarily offset by the state, but a privatized service, whereby each citizen has to pay a substantial portion of his or her own way. I have called this the post-welfare state university because it carries out the policies and ethos of the neo-conservative dismantling of the welfare state, from the Reagan Revolution through the Clinton reform of welfare up to the present draining of social services (see Williams 2005). It operates on the principle that citizens should pay more directly for public services, and public services should be administered less through the state and more through private enterprises.The states role is not to substitute for or provide an alternative realm apart from the market, but to grease the wheels of the market, subsidizing citizens to participate in it and businesses to provide social services. Loans carry out the logic of the post-welfare state because they reconfigure college funding not as an entitlement or grant but as self-payment (as


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with welfare, fostering personal responsibility), and not as a state service but a privatized service, administered by mega-banks such as Citibank, as well as Sallie Mae and Nellie Mae.The state encourages participation in the market of higher education by subsidizing interest, like a start-up business loan, but eschews dependence, as it leaves the principal to each citizen.You have to depend on your own bootstraps. This also represents a shift in the idea of higher education from primarily a social good to an individual good. In the postwar years, higher education was conceived as a massive national mobilization, in part carrying over from the war years and ethos, in part as a legacy of the New Deal, and in part in response to the Cold War. It adopted a modified socialism (that dare not say its name), like a vaccine assimilating a weaker strain of communism in order to immunize against it. While it held a liberal belief in the sanctity of the individuala meritocracy is premised on opening to individual potential its unifying aim was for the social good, to produce the engineers, scientists, and even humanists to strengthen the country. Now higher education is conceived almost entirely as a good for individualsto get a better job and higher earning potential through ones life, as endless reports tell us. Those who attend university are construed as atomized individuals making a personal choice in the marketplace of education to maximize their economic power. This is presumably a good for the social whole, all the atoms adding up to a more prosperous economy, but it is based on the conception of society as a market driven by individual competition rather than social cooperation, and it defines the social good as that which fosters a profitable market. Loans are a personal investment in ones market potential rather than a public investment in ones social potential; like a business, each individual is a store of human capital, and higher education provides value-added. This represents another shift in the idea of higher education, from youthful exemption to market conscription, which is finally a shift in vision of the future and particularly in the social hope for our young. The traditional idea of education is based on social hope, providing an exemption from work and expense for the younger members of society to explore their interests, develop their talents, and receive useful training, as well as to become versed in citizenship, in the belief that it will benefit society in the future. Society pays it forward, funding time and conditions for studentsfuture citizens and workersto learn. This obviously applies to elementary and secondary education (although, in the voucher movement, it is no longer assured there either), and it extends to the university, particularly in the industrial and postindustrial eras.The reasoning melds citizenship ideals and utilitarian purpose. The classical idea of the American university propounded by Thomas Jefferson holds that democratic participation requires education in democratic principles, so it is an

Jeffrey Williams


obligation of a democracy to provide that education. (The reasoning relates to the concept of franchise: just as you should not have to pay a poll tax to vote, you should not have to pay to become a properly educated citizen capable of participating in democracy.) The utilitarian idea, propounded by Charles Eliot Norton in the late nineteenth century and James C. Conant in the mid-twentieth, holds that society should provide advanced training necessary in a more industrially and technologically sophisticated world. The welfare state university promulgated both ideal and utilitarian goals, providing inexpensive tuition, generous aid, and funding the massive expansion of places to study. It offered its exemption not to abet the leisure of a new aristocracy; it presupposed the longterm social benefit of such an exemption, and indeed the GI Bill issued a return of 7:1 for every dollar invested, a rate of return that would make any stockbroker turn green, as well as created the conditions for civic culture.4 (I find it a bitter irony that conservatives, in books like Bowling Alone, bemoan the passing of civic culture at the same time that they extol the market that has replaced civic with market culture). The new paradigm of funding sees the young not as a special group to be exempted or protected from the market, but as already fair game in the market, before they have developed skills and a purchase in the market. It extracts more work, like workfare instead of welfare, from students, both in the hours they might clock while in school as well as in loans, which are finally a deferred form of work. Debt puts a sizeable tariff on social hope. Loans, to provide emergency or minor supplemental aid, are not necessarily a bad arrangement. But, as a major and mandatory source of current funding (most colleges, in their financial aid calculations, stipulate a sizeable portion in loans), they are excessive if not draconian. Moreover, as currently instituted, they are designed more as an entitlement for banking than for students. How they work for students is that the federal government pays the interest while one is enrolled in college and for a short grace period after graduation (or simply leaving), so they provide a modest start-up subsidy, as with a business loan, but no aid toward the actual principle or investment. For lenders, the federal government insures the loans. In other words, banks bear no risk, and the structure of federal loan programs provides a safety net for banks, not for students. Even by the standards of the most doctrinaire market believer, this is bad capitalism.The premise of money lending and investment, say for a home mortgage, is that interest is assessed and deserved in proportion to risk. As a result of these policies, the banks have profited stunningly. Despite the bearish state of the stock market, Sallie Mae, the largest lender, returned the phenomenal profit rate of 37%. Something is wrong with this picture.


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There is no similar safety net for students. Even if you are in bankruptcy and are absolved of all credit card and other loans, the one debt you cannot forego, even before recent debt reform legislation, is student loans.And they will, as Hans Gruber remarks in the film Die Hard, find you, unless you go under deep cover and erase your social security number. As the standard Borrower Notification reads,
As a reminder, failure to repay your loan according to its terms and conditions will result in reporting your default to a credit bureau and may result in any or all of the following: - loss of Federal and/or State income tax refunds, - wage garnishment, - legal action. . . . (USA Group Guarantee Services)

Like buying at the company store, once you sign the chit you are locked into the system. They own you, and they are becoming very rich on it. In Late Bloomers, a report on coming of age for Generation X, David Lipsky and Alexander Abrams have defined their generation as one of indentured students. Students pay their transport through higher education in hope of reaching the shores of a decent job in exchange for agreeing to future debt peonage.We will not know the full effects of this system for at least twenty years, although one can reasonably predict it will not have the salutary effects that the GI Bill had. Or, simply, students from less privileged classes will not go to college. As Lawrence Summers has pointed out, the bottom quarter of the wealthiest class of students is more likely to go to college than the top quarter of the least wealthy students. The current system of funding has skewed the scales of equal opportunity, and meritocracy is waning.
3. The Pedagogy of Debt

Debt is not just a mode of financing but a mode of pedagogy. We tend to think of it as a necessary evil attached to higher education, but extraneous to the aims of higher education; if instead we see it as central to peoples actual experience of the current university, what do they then learn? Especially if we are instructors and professors, we have a special charge to investigate the lessons of debt and what we are actually teaching when we usher them into the university. There are a host of accepted, if sometimes contradictory, rationales for higher education. On the more idealistic end of the spectrum, the traditional rationale is that we give students a grounding in humanistic knowledge, in the Arnoldian credo the best that has been known and thought. A corollary is that they explore liberally across the band of disciplines (hence distribution requirements). A related rationale is that the university is a place where they

Jeffrey Williams


can conduct self-exploration; while this sometimes seems to abet the me culture or culture of narcissism as opposed to the more stern idea of accumulating cultural knowledge, it actually has its roots in Socrates dictum to know yourself, and in many ways it was Cardinal Newmans primary aim in The Idea of a University (1996). These hold that the university stands apart from the normal transactions of the world. In the middle of the spectrum, another traditional rationale holds that higher education promulgates national culture; we teach the profundity of American, or more generally Western, culture. A more progressive rationale might reject the nationalism of that aim and posit instead that higher education should teach a more expansive and inclusive world culture, but it still maintains the principle of liberal learning. Both rationales maintain an idealistic strain, in educating citizens, but see the university as attached to the world rather than as a refugium set apart from it.At the most worldly end of the spectrum, a common rationale holds that higher education provides professional skills and training.This utilitarian purpose opposes Newmans classic idea of a refugium, but shares the fundamental premise that higher education exists to provide students with a head start entering adult life, and provides an exemption for preparation before entering that world.Almost every college and university in the US announces these goals, stitching together idealistic, civic, and utilitarian purposes in a perhaps clashing but otherwise conjoined quilt. (Check your universitys mission statement.) There was a study a number of years ago of how children recognized traffic lights. They easily identified green as go and red as stop, but their response to yellow was more troubling: they said that it meant to go faster. Just as children receive a lesson about traffic lights different from the one in driver education booklets, one that is more accurate to their experience and how the world works, the lesson that young adults are taught in paying for university education diverges from well-intentioned rationales. First, debt teaches that higher education is a consumer service. It is not an enclave or space out of time but a pay-as-you-go transaction, like any other consumer service, and they are not special, like diplomats who have an exemption from New York City parking fees, but consumers, subject to the business franchises attached to education.All the entities making up the present university complex reinforce this lesson, from the Starbucks kiosk in the library and the Burger King counter in the dining hall, to the Barnes & Noble running the bookstore and the pseudo-Golds Gym running the rec center, as well as the bank with the easy access webpage to get their loans.We might tell them the foremost purpose of higher education is self-searching or accumulating humanistic knowledge, but their experience tells them differently. Students have learned


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this lesson well when they tell us they pay our salaries and lobby for an A, expecting we should respond like personnel at any other service counter. Second, debt teaches career choices. It teaches that it would be a poor choice to skimp by on waiting tables while writing your novel, or to become an elementary school teacher at 24k, or to join the Peace Corps. It rules out culture industries like publishing or theatre or art galleries that pay notoriously little, or nonprofits like community radio or the womens shelter.The more rational choice is to work for a top-25 corporation, or go to law school. Nellie Mae, one of the major lenders, discounted the effect of loans on such choices, reporting that Only 17% of borrowers said student loans had a significant impact on their career plans.They concluded The effect of student loans on career plans remains small. This is a dubious conclusion. 17% on any statistical survey is not negligible. It also is flawed because it assessed students responses at time of graduation, before they actually had to pay the loans, get jobs, and pay bills, or simply when they saw things optimistically. Finally, it is fundamentally skewed because it assumes that students decide on career plans tabula rasa. Most likely students have already recognized the situation they face and adapted their career plans accordingly, toward making more money.The best evidence for this is the warp in majors toward business. Many bemoan the fact that the liberal arts have faded, in real terms, whereas business has grown by more than double, from about 8% before WWII to 22% now.This is not because students have become more venial or no longer care about poetry or philosophy; rather, they have learned the lesson of the world in front of them and chosen according to its, and their, constraints. Third, debt teaches a worldview. Following up on the way that advertising indoctrinates children in the market, as Henry Giroux and Juliet Schor have shown in recent books, student loans directly conscript college age students into the market. Debt teaches that the primary ordering principle of the world is the capitalist market, and that the market is natural, inevitable, and implacable. There is no realm of human life alterior to the market; ideas, knowledge, and even sex (which is a significant part of the social education of students in college)5 simply form sub-markets. Debt teaches that democracy is a market, whereby freedom is constituted as an ability to make choices from all the shelves.And the market is a good: it presumably promotes better products through competition rather than aimless leisure, and it is fair since, like a casino, the rules are clear and anyone, black, green, or white, can lay their chips down. It is unfortunate if you dont have many chips to lay down, but the house will spot you some, and having chips is a matter of the luck of the social draw. There is a certain impermeability to the idea of the market: while you can fault social arrangements, who do you fault for luck?

Jeffrey Williams


Fourth, debt teaches civic lessons. It teaches that the states role is to augment commerce, abetting consuming which spurs producing; its role is not to regulate or interfere with the market, except to ensure the level of the table, but to provide a catalyst to it, like coffee in the morning. It also teaches the relation of public and private.The public sphere operates as a market and thus is best administered as a privatized service, opening to the dynamic forces of competition. Debt teaches that the social contract is an obligation to the institutions of capital, which in turn give you all of the products on the shelves. Each citizen is a private subscriber to public services, and should pay his or her own way; social entitlements like welfare only promote laziness rather than the proper competitive spirit. Debt teaches tough love toward welfare: if you have to pay your college loan, why should you pay for someones welfare? Fifth, debt teaches the worth of a person.The worth of a person is measured not according to some grand humanistic conception, cultivation of intellect and taste, or knowledge of the liberal arts, but according to ones financial potential. Education provides value-added to the student.You are how much you can make, minus how much you owe. Debt thus teaches the intractability of class.The disparities of wealth are an issue of the individual, rather than society; debt is your own problem, or failing, so you should not complain about it but get a job with a salary to pay it off. Lastly, debt teaches a sensibility or feeling. Like most powerful feelings, it plays off pleasure and pain. It offers the pleasure, as most consumer loans, of immediate gratification (the respite in college) and hope that a product will fulfill you (good job), deferring the pain of scrambling and working to pay for it. It literalizes what Barbara Ehrenreich calls the fear of falling (1989), which she defines as the quintessential attitude of the professional-middle class who attain their standing through credentials rather than wealth, inducting students into the realm of stress, worry, and pressure over their precarious toehold, reinforced with each monthly payment. It inculcates the distinctive affect of social climbers, who internalize as a social rule the struggle of the climb and are never entirely secure about their purchase. Debt makes concrete the feeling of insecurity.
4. Societys Debt to the Future

If you believe in the social hope of the young, the present system of student debt is wrong. And if you look at the productivity statistics of the college-educated World War II generation, it is counter-productive. We should therefore advocate the abolition of student debt. Despite Nellie Maes bruiting the high rate of satisfaction, a number of universities, including Princeton and UNC-Chapel Hill, have recognized the untenable prospect of student


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debt and now stipulate aid without loans.This is a step in the right direction. It should be the official policy of every university to forego loans, other than on an emergency basis.And it should be the policy of the federal government to convert all fundsmore than $40 billionto direct aid, such as Pell Grants. Even if this can only be enacted in the long term, a short term solution should be to retain the basic structure of student loans, but either to shift to direct lending, administered from the federal government to universities, or to regulate reduced interest rates. If banks still process loans, the loans are funded by the federal government, and banks take no risk, then they should only receive a 1 or 2% administrative surcharge, as charge card companies extract from businesses when processing a payment. If Sallie Mae makes a 37% profit on a public service, then it is no better than war profiteers who drain money from public coffers for a necessary service. The agency should have to pay it back. Or there should be a national, non-profit education foundation, that operates at margin and administers the loans without profit. A more far-ranging solution, that goes to the heart of the problem, is free tuition. Adolph Reed, as part of a campaign of the Labor Party for Free Higher Ed, has made the seemingly utopian but actually practicable proposal of free tuition for all qualified college students. He reasons that, if education is a social good, then we should support it; that it had great benefit, financial as well as civic, under the GI Bill (one of his articles is A GI Bill for Everyone; Reed 2004); and that, given current spending on loan programs, it is not out of reach (he estimates it would cost $30-50 billion a year, which only represents a portion of the military budget). In fact, it would save money, cutting out the middle men of banking.The brilliance of Reeds proposal is that it applies to anyone, rich or poor, so that it realizes the principle of equal opportunity but avoids class warfare. One other solution that I have proposed is for programs oriented toward loan abatements or forgiveness. This would help those in generation x or y who have already incurred loans and are under the weight of debt. What I have in mind is a form of national service. Although I think that students should be exempt from ordinary pressures of expense or future indebtedness, I do not necessarily think that they should be exempt from reasonable work. My proposal takes pointers from a combination of European models of national service, expanded and better funded programs like AmeriCorps, and throwbacks like the Works Progress Administration. Such a proposal would require federal funding, although it could be administered on the state or on the federal level. It would call for a set term of, say, two or three years of service in exchange for a fair if modest salary and, more consequentially, forgiveness of a significant portion of education loans per year in service.

Jeffrey Williams


While this program would not solve all ills, it would hold substantial benefits. It would work toward the prize that we should all keep our eyes on: full employment. It would also work toward the goal of conceiving higher education as a national right and value for the larger public good. Taking a page from the GI Bill, it would forward the goal of a Citizens Bill of Rights, granting an unencumbered education in the expectation of national service. Just as law and order political candidates promise more police on the streets, we should be calling on and pressuring political candidates for more teachers in our classrooms, from preschool to university. There are several existing programs that we can steal a page from and expand. One is a very successful undergraduate program called the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program. It carries a generous scholarship as well as other enrichment benefits, designed to recruit some of the better but usually less wealthy high school students to go into teaching. It requires that students teach in less privileged school districts, often rural or sometimes inner city, for a term of three or four years after graduation. On the postgraduate level, there are similar programs designed to bring doctors to rural or impoverished areas that lack them, that subvent part of medical school training in exchange for a term of service.This program could extend to the PhD level, helping to remedy graduate indebtedness as well as the job crisis. A PhD in literature or history, for instance, could be sent to community colleges or school disticts to consult on programs, to teach upgrade courses for veteran teachers on recent developments in literary scholarship, history, and criticism, or to teach special courses to students.We should build a system of National Teaching Fellows, who would teach and consult in areas that have impeded access to higher education. Such a program would have obvious benefits for students, giving them a way to shed the draconian weight of debt, as well as giving them experience beyond school and more intangibly a sense of pride in public service. As a side effect, it would likely foster solidarity or esprit de corps, as the national service that the World War II generation performed did for soldiers from varied walks of life, or as required national service does in some European countries.The program would not only have benefits for usthat is, it is not only in our self-interestbut for those we encounter. It would put academic expertise to a wider public use, reaching those in remote or impoverished areas.As a side effect, it would foster a better image of academe, through face to face contact. Conversely, it would teach us what is useful, relevant, and needed in what we do, and what is not. These proposals might seem far-fetched, but programs like social security in 1918, the WPA in 1930, the GI Bill in 1940, or the Peace Corps in 1955, were also far-fetched.We need to imagine a better future and develop


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policies to foster it, otherwise we are moving toward a Hobbesian America, where the wealthier will do fine, but the rest of us will be working off the term of our indenture. Student debt impedes a full franchise in American life, so any American should be against it.
Notes I draw these and many of my statistics from the compendious Digest of Education Statistics, 2003. I cite 2002 because it is the most recent year with final tabulations at the time of my writing. In addition to the undergraduate predicament, postbaccalauriate loans have more than doubled in seven years, from $18,572 in 1992-93 to $38,428 in 1999-2000. One can assume they are substantially higher now. This includes all graduate programs, so it is hard to discern the figures for those in literature, cultural studies, or education. But the parallel statistic, of full and parttime instructional faculty, is not encouraging: in 1970, there were 369,000 fulltimers and 104,000 part-timers, for a ratio of nearly 4:1, whereas now the ration is nearer 1:1, with 618,000 full-timers and 495,000 part-timers in 2001. This makes debt yet more troubling, as roughly half those earning PhDs will not even attain a full-time job to pay it. Some anecdotal evidence: of the two PhD students I worked most closely with at Missouri, one had a debt of 75k and the other 0. The average, of course, is $37,500. Both, fortunately, beat the odds and got full-time jobs paying in the mid-40s. This is a decent salary, without debt. It is a more marginal salary if you deduct the payments from 75k off the top of the takehome, and will condition the life of my student for at least the next decade. 2 Loans exceeded grants, like Pell Grants, for the first time in 2004. See Lipsky and Abrams 1994 on the history of the GSL, and the General Accounting Office (GAO) report, Student Financial Aid 2003, for present statistics. 3 See Menands Marketplace of Ideas (2002) for a lucid account of the postwar university and its context; Lemanns The Big Test (1999) on Conant and the postwar implementation of an academic meritocracy; and Lewontin (1997) for an excellent account of the buildup of the postwar university. 4 See Reed (2001, 2004) and Dudzic and Reed (2004) on the analogy to the GI Bill, as well as 5 Other than statistics, one could look to novels of student life, from Fitzgeralds The Far Side of Paradise (1920) to Tom Wolfes I Am Charlotte Simmons (2004), which depict college not as an intellectual but as a sexual awakening. Works Cited Bousquet, Marc. 2004. How the University Works. Lecture delivered at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, 2 Dec. Digest of Education Statistics. 2003. National Center for Educational Statistics. Dudzic, Mark, and Adolph Reed, Jr. 2004. Free Higher Ed. The Nation 23 (February): 16-19.

Jeffrey Williams Ehrenreich, Barabara. 1989. Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class. New York: Pantheon. Lemann, Nicholas. 1999. The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Lewontin, R. C. 1997. The Cold War and the Transformation of the Academy. In The Cold War and the University:Toward an Intellectual History of the Postwar Years, by Noam Chomsky, et al. New York: New Press. Lipsky, David, and Alexander Abrams. 1994. Late Bloomers: Coming of Age in Todays America:The Right Place at the Wrong Time. New York:Times Books. Menand, Louis. 2002. The Marketplace of Ideas. ACLS Occasional Paper, no. 49. New York: American Council of Learned Societies. Newman, John Henry. 1996. .. Ed. Frank M. Turner. 1852. Repring. New Haven: Yale University Press. Reed, Adolph. 2004. Majoring in Debt. The Progressive (January): 25-27. . 2001. A GI Bill for Everybody. Dissent (Fall): 53-58. Student Financial Aid: Monitoring Aid Greater than Federally Defined Need Could Help Address Student Loan Indebtedness. 2003. Report to the Honorable Rod Paige, Secretary of Education. GAO-03-508.Washington, DC: United State General Accounting Office. Williams, Jeffrey J. 2005. The Post-Welfare State University. ALH 17.4: 190-216.