Jesus Radicals Blog 2005-2017
American college tuition is rising at twice the rate of inflation.1 The average student loan debt has climbed to nearly $25,000.2 And according to a study cited by Anya Kamenetz in her book DIY U, public university tuition would cost the poorest one fifth of Americans 55 percent of their income.3 Government subsidies for education are championed as the solution to these problems. It is one of Barak Obama’s second term promises that he will be “giving everyone a shot at an education.”4 The truth is the university has developed multiple cost-shifting strategies to handle recession. It is the university’s practice to raise tuition, court out-of-state students, and increase class size when government grants dwindle during difficult economic periods. The modern university has a steady flow of funds but a poor understanding of stewardship.
Even by free market standards, the university’s business practices are opaque. People who can afford to go to school can’t find out what their ever-increasing tuition is actually paying for. Recruiters boast that class sizes are being reduced and distinguished professors are being hired. But education watchdogs have found that tuition is often being funneled into marketing departments and new campus gyms while under-paid adjuncts teach to classes of over 100 students.5 If this were any other business and the quality of the product was deteriorating but the cost was rising, the consumer would no longer purchase the product.
But in a culture that gives undue regard to credentialing and professionalism, degrees are granted more weight than successfully completed apprenticeships or years of on the job training. As cost-prohibitive as college may become in an ever-waning economy, Americans will continue to believe they need a degree to succeed, make money. Perhaps, this co-dependent relationship between an institution built on classism and hierarchical pedagogy and our title obsessed secular culture makes sense. But why is the Church so comfortable being the third wheel in this unhealthy affair? Why has the seminary chosen to be enmeshed in this model of education that is so cost-prohibitive it keeps many folks from being able to attend and relegates most of those who do receive a degree to a lifetime of debt? How do we extract it?
These three questions gave way to a number more. Feeling puzzled by the lack of discussion around this issue, I sent out a list of questions to friends in ministry. Their responses have been interesting but, on the whole, they seem as confused as I am about how the seminary has ended up in its current predicament. I put these same questions to you and ask you to think deeply and critically about the education you, your friends, and/or your minister received. As we stare head on at the brokenness of our medical system, food system, and prison system we must also face the reality that our higher education system has become stratifying, myopic, and unimaginative.
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