Mami Mondays: Meredith Talks Education


Mami Mondays is back! And we are kicking things back off with Meredith who speaks on an important topic that is of interest, not just because I have a child but because I am in grad school and would like to teach some day.

The High Cost of Education


This summer I packed up my home, filling boxes and bags full of the possessions I would carry with me while I stacked all my other things—cookware, photographs, furniture—in a 10x10 square on the third floor of a storage unit. I moved across town to another place I call home, that of my adolescence. This process, of packing up my life and fitting my adulthood back into my childhood room, is familiar to me. Like many people in my generation, graduating during the economic recession, I spent my twenties going home. I moved out during college only to come back when I enrolled in a Master’s degree program and only worked for a small graduate stipend while amounting thousands in student loan debt.

And now, at the age of thirty, I have moved home again. This time I have two small boys and a husband that moved with me. This time I am moving back as college professor.

I am one of many people in higher education struggling to make ends meet. Like most of my colleagues, I started as an adjunct. I worked between two local state colleges and a university, sometimes teaching eight or nine courses in a semester to make a yearly income of $28,000. I did not have health insurance and for this reason my husband and I delayed having children.

Then, I landed the dream-job, a job that many of my friends are still hoping for: a full time instructor line with health benefits and a salary less than $40,000. Since these positions are so coveted, so rare, the culture surrounding me tells me that all I can do is be grateful.

And, I am grateful.

I love my work.

But, like my colleagues in the liberal arts, where my position is housed, I am also worried about my financial security.

In Florida, education has seen declines in funding since the recession. At my institution, faculty have seen their wages decline since 2010. Not only have wages not kept up with inflation they have decreased because of a 3% shift in the way our retirement is funded, switching the financial burden onto the faculty. This is particularly significant for faculty in the liberal arts, whose income is significantly lower than those in disciplines like engineering or business. Though it doesn't seem like it, this is a women’s issue.

More women than men enter into the liberal arts. In fact, the United Nations cited the United States and Western Europe as having the lowest number of female graduates worldwide in the sciences. The White House Project on Women’s Leadership also reminds us that women earn more than half of all entry level positions in higher education—those positions that are lower in earnings and more likely to be part time and subject to budgetary cuts—while they account for only 26% of full professors, the highest faculty ranking. This disproportionate representation of women in both the lower positions and in undervalued disciplines translates into lower wages. Women’s salaries in higher education are not just lower than men’s but they have dropped since the 1970's. These numbers are worse for women of color, who make up a small percentage of faculty.

This was brought home for me in late November, when our bargaining unit lost their proposal for a 3% wage increase, an increase that would not even rectify the losses we have sustained in the last few years. In a hearing about the impasse between the union and administration—which just earned bonuses and increases themselves—the administration’s lawyer said that the board should not give “them” a wage increase.

Who does he imagine when he speaks about “them”?

Did he think about my family struggling to get by? Did he imagine my colleagues who work long hours with increasing class sizes? Did he think about how much we fight for our students, so that they can be successful?

Surely, he did not mean me?

And, I couldn't help but think about my own students. Do they know that so many of their faculty make so little?

And, I couldn't help but think about my own boys—both babies really, under the age of three—and our decision to move back home for them.

The decision to move home was a difficult one for my husband and I to make. We did not make it lightly but over a series of months and heated discussions. Like many people impacted by the housing crisis, our 2-bedroom town home is worth far less than we owe. We would lose significantly if we sold it—if we could sell it at all—let alone be able to afford the down payment on a new house.

So, we thought about our options, about staying in a house that was too small for our growing family and too far from my job—my commute to work costs upwards of $50 a week in tolls or 1/3 of our food budget a week—or about renting and closing the door on home ownership. Ultimately, we made the decision that was best for our family and asked my parents to let to let us move in, two kids and a dog, so that we could rent our house and try and save for a down payment.

The move home has not been easy and it has not been cheap.

We moved in to save money for a new house. Six months home and we have no more money than when we started. Renting out our townhouse has been expensive. Between my husband, a schoolteacher at a title I elementary school and I, our student loans are costly. More still is the increased cost we have felt from sending a second child to in-home care—the most affordable option in our community—a cost we did not experience last year when my extended family pitched in to help with his birth.

If my toddler needs new shoes, my mother buys them. I still wear maternity clothes eight months after my son’s birth because I can’t afford new clothes to fit this new mommy body. If we have to go to the doctor like we did last month then we make sacrifices other places.

I am worried. I am concerned about how we can make-work more equitable for women, for mothers. I am concerned about the cost of child-care and family supportive work places. But, mostly, I am concerned for the future.

What are your concerns? What do you need to make work more family friendly? What have you done to stretch your dollar and make ends meet?

MeredithI am a mother to two boys that keep me happy and sleep deprived. I am also an Instructor at a university, where I teach courses on contemporary women's issues and literature, study girl's leadership, and help run a mentoring program that connects collegiate women with seventh grade girls.