"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Answers to Dr. Muth's and Greg's Questions Re: Is a VCU Ed Degree Worth It? (You can just look at the pictures to get the gist if you don't want to read it all)

Northern VA pays teachers more than Central VA, and Tidewater pays only a little more than the Richmond area. Also, just because one graduates from VCU doesn't mean s/he has to stay in central VA to make a living - but I think that is part of the problem. First generation college students saddled with debt will probably stay close to home (I'm making a lot of assumptions here about VCU's student body).

Also, it's not as much of a reflection on the cost of VCU as the cost combined with a student body that must borrow and pay back the loan with interest. The study analyzes the ROI (Return On Investment) - which includes annual earnings MINUS the cost the graduate pays back on loans [this number is calculated by the average student loan debt from that university].

It's no secret that at many “elite” schools, many parents pay their kids' tuition thus those students don't have much debt (if any) and get to keep more of their paycheck when they graduate. So, if we didn't consider student debt, only earnings, VCU's BA in education very well could be lucrative. You can play with the numbers yourself on PayScale's Website.

Tution by Semester
Regarding questions about VCU's cost relative to other VA colleges, VCU's undergrad tuition this year is $10,299.46, which is about the same but slightly more than UVA's $10,016 (which according to The Atlantic: “For the best dollar-for-dollar investment, nothing beats the University of Virginia”). It's important to note that UVA has a large endowment that allows it to keep tuition low, whereas VCU relies more heavily on tuition dollars to fund its activities. 

Also, the study did not take into account the new income based repayment plans and public service federal loan forgiveness available to teachers – BUT those programs are not guaranteed. In his new budget, Obama wants to extend the duration of public service required for forgiveness from 10 to 25 years (and some other stuff) – the first cohort of students would qualify for the forgiveness in 2017; thus, no one so far has actually benefited from this program.

I don't think VCU has done anything wrong; it is dealing with the same market forces as other institutions, but I do find the study disturbing. Why is this not the first thing on VCU Admin's agenda? Who cares about “Research One” or US News and World Report Rankings if you're graduating students who would be financially better off with a high-school diploma than a degree from your university? Can part of the school's Quest for Distinction be to become a model for providing an excellent education at an affordable cost?

There aren't easy answers to this, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to find solutions. In addition to traditional efforts such as cutting budgets and lobbying the legislature for more state funding, here are some models we can look to for inspiration:

Access UVA (institutional level) – Guarantees to meet 100% of the financial need of students admitted to the university (need as measured by the FAFSA – not a great instrument IMHO, but it's something). VCU's student body is larger and likely to have more need than UVA's, but could VCU commit to helping meet the need of students? Could it pool resources to offer its own subsidized loans or offer other, new forms of financial aid to meet the needs of its students?

Michigan's Pay It Forward Bill (state level) – This Bill would allow students from households with less than $250,000 income to attend a state university for “free” while in college and pay back a percentage of their income for 25 years once they graduate. There are still details to work out such as if a student repays his/her cost of attendance before the 25 years are up, should they have to continue paying? Regardless, the proposed payback of 2% for community college and 4% for university graduates is MUCH better than the federal income based repayment plan of 10%.

Strike the Debt Movement (national level) – Medical bills are the #1 cause of bankruptcy in the US and healthcare debt is traded for pennies on the dollar on Wall Street. For $400,000, Rolling Jubilee was able to buy and forgive $14,734,569.87 of medical debt. That's more than 36 X the initial investment of $400K. Unlike medical debt, student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy and thus are even MORE odious than medical debt. Also, in the past, student loans were not often traded on the stock market, but they are becoming more popular. Given that more than 1 in 3 borrowers under 30 years old is at least 90 days delinquent in student loan payments (a number that continues to increase every year), it seems we will need some type of debt forgiveness in addition to the income based repayment plans (which only forgive Federal, not private loans).

In addition to ethical reasons, VCU should be concerned about its students' debt because of new proposals that will tie institutions' ability to receive Federal dollars to their graduates' “loan debt” and “employment outcomes.”

I'm sure there are other inspirational initiatives out there - if you know of them, please share! :-)


  1. Seth, this is excellent work--critical, imaginative and constructive. With your permission I would like to share your findings with our Dean and suggest the School of Education formulate short and long term strategies for addressing student tuition and loan debt. (It is possible that the School is already moving forward, but if so I have not heard about it.) please let me know, and THANK YOU for moving us not only to awareness, but toward action. B.

  2. Please feel free to share. The Deans and Chairs should be discussing this - as should we... solutions can come from the bottom up too :) Also, I know that the ed school recently secured funding for 30+ scholarships (undergrad and grad), which is excellent, but there's still more to do!

  3. This is such a great post, Seth! It is incredibly insightful. While I am still struggling with undergraduate debt, I am thankful every single day that I have not had to pay for this master's degree. I would not be able to afford it otherwise and I don't know if my change in status will affect my ability to get a higher paying job yet. It's scary out there!
    I do see one way VCU is trying to help: there have been a large number of open development jobs in schools and departments across the university. Now, I don't know how/if they plan to filter this money to the students, but I do feel that the higher-level people I know here are very concerned about rising student debt and costs. I do worry that cutting administrative costs will mean cutting essential staff jobs instead of aligning the pay scales across the university.

  4. UGH THIS: http://www.timesdispatch.com/news/state-regional/virginia-politics/vcu-seeks-percent-tuition-increase/article_b552b246-8e3c-59b8-a1d4-463ee363c032.html

  5. Seth- excellent post! I am very lucky and thankful that VCU covers tuition costs for faculty or else I'd really be scrounging for tuition (I'm already sitting on a ton of undergrad debt)!

    1. If you have federal debt (undergrad) - look into the income based repayment plans if you haven't. There are 3 depending on when you took out the loans and some other factors. I know it's taboo to talk finances in our culture, but if you ever want to chat about how to manage undergrad debt, let me know. I promise you I am a million times more helpful and better informed than anyone in the financial aid office! http://studentaid.ed.gov/repay-loans/understand/plans/income-based

  6. I just completed exit "counseling" for my student loan and saw this post. ugh. I looked back at what I paid for my very first class two years ago and compared it to this semester's tuition-an increase of $312. Don't get me wrong, I love learning and have thoroughly enjoyed this program but 1900 for a single grad class is difficult to justify.

    1. same offer as I made Jason. Also, if you decide to consolidate your loans - wait until after your grace period is up otherwise you'll have to start making payments immediately.


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post. Diverse opinions are welcomed.