The serpentine struggle to make a living wage as an adjunct in academe is far from over, and higher education is losing world-class instructors and original contributions to research in the wake. The ivory tower is crumbling under the weight of contingency, and students are suffering the consequences of corporatized higher ed. Increasingly, the commodification of higher ed demoralizes students. With skyrocketing tuition, additional fees, and instructional cuts that impact the quality of education, more and more students question the market value of their degrees, too. Is a four-year degree worth a lifetime of debt and lottery odds of job placement?
Former student Don DuPay tells me candidly:
As each term starts and I join the long line of students waiting for services like funding information, I start to feel like I am enrolled in Walmart U. ‘Take a number! Next! Please wait behind the line for your turn.’ Yes, I feel like a commodity. Then when classes start I realize I am taught by the ‘other’ commodity, the underpaid adjuncts who do all the work. I get an education, yes, but sometimes I feel like I’m waiting in line for a burger. And fries.
DuPay paints a clear picture of what higher ed has become: “Walmart U” funded by federal and private student loans that turn many students into default debtors to the tune of $1.2 trillion in national student loan debt. And Don’s experience is not unique; rather, it’s the new norm. In fact, he knows he will die a debtor. It doesn’t have to be this way, and if more of us demand quality and affordable higher ed, they’ll supply it. So demand it.