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Ah, Family Weekend … The highly anticipated 3-day adventure to see how our kids are settling into dorm life and classes!

As with tour weeks for high school seniors, campuses strive to put their best foot forward in hopes of attracting and retaining their customers. Did the word customer bother you at all? If not, it should have.

A change has occurred in higher education across the US. You see, where your freshman child used to be seen as a student to be challenged, molded into a critically thinking, well-rounded builder of futures, they’re now seen as a customer to be retained for maximum cash flow in exchange for a diploma earned with minimal financial and resource expenditure on the part of the college / university administration.

I know, you’re thinking, “Well, maybe at some schools, but not ours.” Here are a few indicators to consider:

–          Does the school’s president come from academia or industry?

–          Does the school’s web page and brochure focus on fancy dorm facilities, a mall-worthy food court, state-of-the-art athletics facilities and shiny new buildings underwritten by large corporations?

–          How many of your child’s professors are adjuncts? (In most schools, you’ll find that 70-80% of instructors for undergrads aren’t tenured professors. If your child is at a community college or a for-profit university, the number is 100%.)

–          Do the adjuncts have offices? Are they paid enough to be able to have one job or will they be running right after class to teach at a second or even third school just to make ends meet?

–          Compare the president’s salary to that of an adjunct; you’ll quickly see if your chosen school has adopted the top-down management style of large corporations, making sure top administrators are well-paid while allowing a very small portion of the budget to trickle down to adjuncts and the resources they need to educate your child.

Listen, I get that the fancy facilities make a good impression, but we have to understand that they don’t magically appear; someone has to pay for them. That someone is you and your child. You pay for it through ever-rising tuition. Your child pays for it by dealing with underpaid adjuncts, most of whom live below the poverty line and, therefore, hold down several jobs so they can afford to house and feed their own children.

Adjuncts are well-educated professionals with a true passion for teaching. Unfortunately, they’re usually hired per semester with no hope of reaching tenure track. Adjuncts aren’t allowed a voice in discussing the curriculum they teach or the textbooks they use, and they aren’t given basic resources like sample syllabi, access to copy machines or office space in which to hold hours for helping and mentoring students. They show up each day because they’re dedicated educators who do their very best in spite of the horrific pay and conditions administrators provide.

There’s a chance that you’re not getting your money’s worth on a high-ticket item – your child’s future. So, this year, during Family Weekend, please make a point of learning about your child’s professors. And, if they’re adjuncts, please think about becoming a voice that supports them at your child’s school.

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