Bachelor’s Degree Bargain

To riff on a bestselling book title, everything I needed to know, I learned in undergrad.

At Arkansas State University, my humble alma mater, I received all the essential knowledge I needed to become a successful journalist. I also had the opportunity to serve as editor in chief of the student newspaper, work with many other talented students who are still professional writers and editors today, and — with only one exception — attend small classes taught by full-time professors, many of whom had recent real-world experience in their fields of study. What’s more, I got all this for a paltry $975 or less in tuition and most fees each semester.

It was a great  value, even in those days, and seems more of a steal when you consider the average annual in-state price tag for tuition and fees was $8,893 for public four-year institutions in 2013 according to The College Board.

All this doesn’t discount the value of my master’s degree from Columbia University in New York, where I learned how to physically and psychologically navigate life in the city, gained insights from some of the best reporters in the nation, landed a paid internship at Newsday, and was matched with a mentor who helped me get my first real job.

But I have no doubt that I would still be thriving as a professional reporter, writer, and teacher today if I had ended my educational career after earning my bachelor’s degree — and all for less than $1,000 a semester.


Free morgueFile Photo

Free morgueFile Photo

To read the college newspaper news story and editorial I wrote about tuition in 1995, please click here (and ignore the fact I use the words fewer and less interchangeably).

To hear Sen. Elizabeth Warren talk about the great undergraduate education she got for $50 a semester and how the American dream is 300 percent more expensive today than it was a generation ago, check out this CBS Sunday Morning interview.

To post your own thoughts about being a student, teacher, or both, respond to The Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge.


In Praise of Adjunct Teaching

Sharing what I know and learning new things from new people are two of my favorite activities. This would explain why I became a reporter and writer. It would also explain why, after the events of September 11, I was inspired leave my job as a business reporter to join Teach For America in an effort to make a difference in the lives of those not already earning a six-figure salary.

Thanks to that amazing organization, I had the opportunity to teach special education and English in Saint Louis City’s Vashon High School. I later moved on to a nearby middle school and, after meeting and working with some incredible adults and young people, finally remembered why few would ever elect to return to middle school in any capacity. Given that I had also expended considerable time, effort and money earning a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, I also thought it was well past time for me to return to writing something other than office referrals.

Still, I knew I would miss sharing my passion for reading and writing with young people, so I settled on what has thus far proven to be an ideal compromise. In addition to adding a certain level of class to my attic storage space, that aforementioned master’s degree makes me qualified to teach college courses as an adjunct.

Adjunct teaching certainly doesn’t give me a six-figure salary comparable to those earned by the executives I used to write about. In fact, it doesn’t even offer anything close to what I brought home as a full-time public school teacher in a struggling city system. But it has been an enlightening experience that makes me honestly echo the cliché that I hope I am teaching my students as much as I am learning from them.

Indeed, it was the textbook for my business communications class, coupled with a few innovative presentations from my students, that inspired the idea behind my first published piece in a decade. And the classes I teach — in which students are encouraged to submit almost all their work through a blog — are the only reason this site exists today.

It’s true that adjunct teaching is often, if not always, a poor way to earn a living for extremely educated, underemployed degree holders hoping for substantive salaries, health insurance and a tenure track professorship. But I would argue it’s an excellent way to sharpen your skills and supplement your income while working on a book project, raising a family or pursuing your Ph.D.

And I can say from experience that it definitely beats middle school bus duty.