Thursday, April 24, 2014

[That] Ph.D. Now Comes With Food Stamps by Stacey Patton

“…A record number of people are depending on federally financed food assistance. Food-stamp use increased from an average monthly caseload of 17 million in 2000 to 44 million people in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Web site. Last year, one in six people—almost 50 million Americans, or 15 percent of the population—received food stamps.

“…[There is] an often overlooked, and growing, subgroup of Ph.D. recipients, adjunct professors, and other Americans with advanced degrees who have had to apply for food stamps or some other form of government aid since late 2007.

“Some are struggling to pay back student loans and cover basic living expenses as they submit scores of applications for a limited pool of full-time academic positions. Others are trying to raise families or pay for their children's college expenses on the low and fluctuating pay they receive as professors off the tenure track, a group that now makes up 70 percent of faculties. 

“Many bounce on and off unemployment or welfare during semester breaks. And some adjuncts have found themselves trying to make ends meet by waiting tables or bagging groceries alongside their students.

“Of the 2 million Americans with master's degrees or higher in 2010, about 360,000 were receiving some kind of public assistance, according to the latest Current Population Survey released by the U.S. Census Bureau in March 2011. In 2010, a total of 44 million people nationally received food stamps or some other form of public aid, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“People who don't finish college are more likely to receive food stamps than are those who go to graduate school. The rolls of people on public assistance are dominated by people with less education. Nevertheless, the percentage of graduate-degree holders who receive food stamps or some other aid more than doubled between 2007 and 2010.

“During that three-year period, the number of people with master's degrees who received food stamps and other aid climbed from 101,682 to 293,029, and the number of people with Ph.D.'s who received assistance rose from 9,776 to 33,655, according to tabulations of micro-data done by Austin Nichols, a senior researcher with the Urban Institute. He drew on figures from the 2008 and 2011 Current Population Surveys done by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor.

“Leaders of organizations that represent adjunct faculty members think that the number of people counted by the government does not represent the full picture of academics on welfare because many do not report their reliance on federal aid. Even as the number of highly educated aid recipients grows, shame has helped to keep the problem hidden… Some adjuncts make less money than custodians and campus support staff who may not have college degrees…

When asked if they believe that full-time faculty, administrators, and scholarly associations know that adjuncts are receiving government assistance, scores of graduate students and adjuncts who get public benefits gave mixed responses. In an informal questionnaire The Chronicle distributed through AFT Higher Education, the New Faculty Majority, and other groups that represent adjuncts, the aid recipients said that some of those people know, some don't know, some don't want to know, and some seem not to care…

“‘It's the dirty little secret of higher education,’ says Mr. Williams of the New Faculty Majority. ‘Many administrators are not aware of the whole extent of the problem. But all it takes is for somebody to run the numbers to see that their faculty is eligible for welfare assistance.’

“Public colleges have a special obligation to ensure that the conditions under which contingent faculty work are not exploitative, he says. ‘When public institutions fill those seats in the classroom and tell students that they will be better off because of their education, it is absolutely disingenuous for institutions to promulgate a compensation structure of faculty to be on food stamps and other forms of government assistance.’

“John Curtis, director of research and public policy for the American Association of University Professors, says he regularly encounters tenured faculty members who are unaware of the extent of the problem of contingent academic employment. At the same time, many tenured faculty members are outspoken advocates of improving working conditions for their colleagues in contingent appointments, he adds. 

“The AAUP has been working with faculty groups, scholarly associations, and disciplinary societies to raise awareness, Mr. Curtis says, so there is ‘no legitimate claim to a lack of information.’ Some leaders of scholarly associations say they are surprised to hear of graduate-degree holders being on public assistance…”

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