Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Online Discussion #2 - due January 31

College debt in the U.S. is rapidly nearing a staggering $1.5 Trillion, becoming a hidden drag on the economy and a secret drag on many people's lives.  I say "hidden" and "secret" because most Americans do not talk about their debt in public, and therefore few of us recognize just how widespread a challenge it is.  Our readings today offer us insight into why student debt has increased and how it shapes the lives of college graduates.  

After reading the selections from Ken Ilgunas's Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom, the excerpt from Rebekah Nathan's My Freshman Year, and (optionally) chapters from Alan Collinge's The Student Loan Scam or Armstrong and Hamilton's Paying for the Party (all available in the Resources -- Required Course Readings on our Sakai site), please reflect on one of the questions below regarding student debt by making an original connection between at least two of them.

Answer one of the following in the comments below, then respond to someone else for the full two points participation credit:

Question Option #1: "In what way (or ways) is college no longer a 'liminal' space for self-discovery?"
In the excerpt from her book My Freshman Year, Rebekah Nathan discusses how the cost of college seems to have changed the experience of today's students by making college less a place for free exploration and self-discovery and more a place to focus on preparing for the job market or worrying about money.  How does Nathan's argument connect to at least one of the other readings for today, and what does that reading suggest about Nathan's thesis?  Is college no longer a 'liminal' space of freedom between childhood and adulthood? Is "the party pathway" one example of how students explore their liminal position?  But is it the best way for those who can afford it?  Is it still possible to make college a place where people can freely choose who they want to become or how they want to live -- or how they can think and live freely (which is the essential meaning of "the liberal arts")?  Would you say that Ken Ilgunas's story illustrates how some college graduates are extending the possibilities of liminality?  For this question, you might reference Armstrong and Hamilton's book, including Chapter 6 on "Strivers" which connects very well with Nathan's argument about how "adult realities" intrude on the liminal space of college for some students.

Question Option #2: "Does debt destroy freedom?"
Based on the readings -- and citing specific evidence from two of them -- answer at least one of the following questions:  How does debt affect the "freedom" (a key word for Ilgunas) of debtors?  Do students make free choices that get them into debt or is it a trap they are forced into?  How is debt sometimes caused by limited choices -- and how does being in debt itself constrain choice?  How can debtors regain or reassert their "freedom"?  How does Ilgunas's description of the liberal arts (especially in his graduation speech) connect to his view of "freedom"?  What do you think students can do about the growing problem of student debt and the larger problem of income inequality it exacerbates?  Or does debt make it too difficult for graduates to worry about anyone but themselves?

Question Option #3: "To what extent are colleges in cahoots with the banks?"
Especially in Collinge's chapter on the privatization of Sallie Mae and in Ilgunas's anecdotes about his best friend, Josh Pruyn, who goes to work for a for-profit school, we see how colleges at least feed the private banking industry and sometimes eat at the same trough.  How does the relationship between colleges and banks connect to the theme of privatization we have been discussing?  How and why can private interests damage higher education in these cases?

Respond to this question using the comments feature below, making direct reference to two of the readings in your comment, before we meet on Tuesday.  Then comment on another student's comment.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Online Discussion #1 on "Privatization," due January 24th

In his essay "The Price of Privatization," from The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them, Christopher Newfield uses the term "privatization" to describe what is happening to American higher education due to the widespread withdrawal of state support and the turn to private sources of funding (especially tuition).  This turn to the private can be contrasted with the idea of "public good," which is the focus of "When College Was a Public Good," where Scott Carlson points out that the decline of public investment in higher education and the rise of diversity among college students are inversely correlated, perhaps because the elite feel less inclined to support programs that are not for people like themselves.

In their book Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality, sociologists Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton describe how college magnifies relatively small differences in family background and income, so that students from less affluent families find themselves at a disadvantage in making social connections, gaining membership in Greek life, affording time for academics, and successfully pursuing the most challenging professional pathways (where support from parents is practically essential). 

Choose ONE of the following questions and use ideas related to the rise of privatization (Newfiled) or the fall of public support (Carlson) to help explain a specific example from Armstrong and Hamilton's study that illustrates that idea.  Try to make an original connection between two of the readings in your comment.  Then post a comment on another student's connection.

1. Privatization and Social Engagement or Isolation.
How might privatization compound the problems faced by less affluent students in making lasting social connections at college and why does that matter? Some related questions you might consider: 
How does social class background impact how well students fit in socially?  How does successful social engagement translate to academic success in college and economic success after college?  What are the downsides of too much social engagement, and why do some students suffer those downsides more than others?   

2. Privatization and Social Reproduction or Mobility.
How exactly do private resources impact who will have the most academic success at college and the most long-term gains in income because of that?  Armstrong and Hamilton suggest that social and economic backgrounds seem to foretell who will or will not reproduce the social class of their parents or, even more challenging, achieve social mobility.  How exactly do private resources or a lack of public support make the difference here?

Use the comments feature below and make direct reference to the readings in your comment (which must be posted before we meet on Tuesday).  Then respond to another student's comment (you may need to come back later and the second comment is due by 24 hours after we meet as a class).  You must post and comment to receive the full two points participation credit.  Note: if you post anonymously, please sign your post with at least your first name.