Letter to the Editor,
When I was a college student I didn’t work a job during the academic year. This is not because my family had the money to pay for my education (they didn’t, at all), but because I could cover all of my expenses with student loans. I probably took out more loans than I should have, but I was afraid that if I didn’t my grades would suffer and I wouldn’t be able to go to graduate school. These days, however, it’s not so easy for students to avoid working while taking classes. Many of my students work during the school year, and I’m sure those same students take out student loans as well. It’s just not possible for many of them to earn enough money to cover all of their education costs.
This poses a problem for any professor, like myself, who wants to offer students extra credit for attending a lecture on campus, like Dr. Rodemeyer’s recent lecture on “Hooking Up.” Some of my students were unable to attend this lecture because they had class or some other academic commitment. Many couldn’t attend because they had to work. For those who couldn’t attend “Hooking Up,” I offered a second opportunity: they could attend a lecture by Dr. Boynton from Allegheny College. Not surprisingly, many students who missed the first lecture couldn’t attend the second lecture because they had to work. So they asked me for another extra credit opportunity. You can see how this process could go on forever. I got frustrated with my students and vowed never to offer extra credit again. Then I was reminded of something.
The reason students want extra credit is that they haven’t done as well on their coursework as they want to. For many students this is because, in addition to their coursework, they have to work to make money to pay their bills, including their tuition. They have to work when they should be studying. Some of them have to work when they should be in class, and they skip class to work! Whatever their situation, the working student often suffers academically, unless they are extraordinarily disciplined—and many of them are. Not only does their coursework suffer, their education suffers, and their opportunities for extra credit are compromised by their work commitments. This means that the students who need extra credit the most—those whose coursework suffers because they have to work—are the same students who often can’t seize extra credit opportunities because they have to work. They are doubly deprived.
The point is that public higher education is not affordable enough and its cost disadvantages the very students who are meant to be served by the public higher education system. Soon it will be out of reach for those who need it most. It’s becoming a self-defeating institution. My frustration, which was initially and impulsively directed at my students, who kept asking for more extra credit opportunities, should have been focused on those responsible for allowing public higher education to become so expensive. Not the university, but those politicians and state officials (along with the voters who elect them) who systematically decrease funding for public higher education. Higher education is supposed to enable working class students to pull themselves out of the working class, but instead it keeps them working to pay for classes that they sometimes can’t afford to attend! And this sets them up to remain struggling in the working class even after they’ve gotten the education that promised to liberate them. After all, they’ll have to pay back all those student loans once they graduate.
I hope for a day when lectures on campus are widely attended because students want to learn something from an expert, not because they need to earn extra points on their final exam because they were too busy working to study properly for the midterm exam. For this they need to have the leisure time to spend on extra-curricular academic activities, which can only happen when we restore public funding for higher education and free students from the burden of work during the academic year. Extra credit may cause me some frustration, but it costs my students a lot more. It doesn’t have to be like this.
Department of Philosophy