Dr. Orange Chair Mc Fancy Pants

I can’t believe I’m thinking this, especially after my rant about the cost of graduate school (we can’t deny that Master’s programs can be a University’s bread and butter) and how much I didn’t enjoy my Master’s program BUT I am thinking about pursuing my DrPH (that’s a doctorate in public health for those who may not know).

Boom! I bet you didn’t see that coming (or maybe you did and then you’re more clairvoyant than me).

I’ve come into a unique situation in which I could begin taking classes, join a program, and finish up a program at little to no cost. This whole ‘free degree’ thing is pretty appealing. Well, it’s not really free is it? I mean, financially, maybe. But there’s a whole time and sanity sink that comes with going back to school (papers, classes, teachers you don’t like, more bureaucracy than you can shake a stick at).

I have felt since getting my Master’s that it hasn’t done much for me…and maybe it will, maybe it won’t (maybe it has maybe it hasn’t). It is what it is. So then why am I suddenly enthralled by the thought of getting a Doctorate?

I don’t really have to ask because I know…it’s the academic in me that wants to go ALL THE WAY, the one who wants to be Dr. Orange Chair Mc Fancy Pants. I’d also like to believe that at the doctorate level, education isn’t such a business transaction where I pay a gagillion dollars and get a sheet of paper in return that somehow says I’m awesome. I’d like to believe I could take away a real leadership skill set from this and that it could help propel my career.

But one thing I’ve learned in my job search history is that institutions seem to care a lot more about what you have done and less about where or what you have studied. Would my experience with a doctorate be so different as to make it worth it? Unclear.

If you could pursue higher education for free, would you? To what end? And what do you think it could help you accomplish?


Student Loan Initiatives – Unclear About What’s New

Since I have my mountains of student debt to start dealing with, I always pay attention to what’s going on government wise with student loans. So when Obama unveiled his student loan relief plan, I was intrigued. Unfortunately, I’m not really seeing anything new enough to require an “unveiling”.

The president’s plan is to be enforced by executive authority which is good (in my opinion) because it won’t need Congress but it is pretty limited in scope.

Heather Jarvis at Student Loan Expert breaks it down:

The changes will reduce interest rates for some graduates, and will have a significant impact on student loan payments for current students.

The Administration will:
Offer a limited-time discount (including a .5 percent interest rate reduction) to the about 6 million borrowers who have at least one Direct Loan and at least one FFEL loan.
Make more generous Income-Based Repayment (IBR) terms available sooner for about 1.6 millioncurrent students by moving up the effective date for improvements to the Income-Based Repayment plan from 2014 to 2012.

Student loan borrowers who have graduated or are no longer in school can choose the current Income-Based Repayment plan. Fewer than 450,000 borrowers participate in the Income-Based Repayment plan, and millions more of the 36 million Americans with federal student loan debt can likely benefit. The administration says it will take steps to let borrowers know about IBR and make it easier to participate in IBR.
This seems to me to be a very small, very early first-of-the-first kind of steps in helping with student debt burden. “The administration is clearly acting in the interest of students, and this is a good thing in the current environment,” said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education. “But the fact remains that the biggest student loan issue facing us is the doubling of interest rates in eight months.”

Student Loans and My Soul

Something I’ve noticed since graduating is that people are kind of hush hush about how much student loan debt they have. We make jokes about how crippling it is or how universities squeezed all of the cash out of us that they possibly could.

But I’m curious about figures. I want to know exactly how much. And the reason why is pretty simple for me….I want to feel normal. I want to feel like there are other people in the same boat as me because that makes all the debt more manageable.

According to FinAid, the average 4-year undergrad. student comes out with $23,186 in debt. Obviously, graduate and professional students borrow a lot more with the additional debt typically ranging from $30,000 to $120,000. Twenty five percent of those pursuing a Master’s borrow more than $42,898 in addition to their undergraduate debt.

These figures are pretty familiar for me.

I went to a public university for my BA and had in-state tuition. My parents paid for room and board and I paid tuition. I came out with roughly $20,000 in debt from that. I had a few scholarships but I borrowed extra money in my last two years to help cover my expenses. I gave piano lessons to help bolster my savings but I didn’t have a real job; I also didn’t have the time.

Then, I went straight into a Master’s program in D.C. which is a REALLY expensive city. During the first semester I lived by myself (my partner still lived in California at the time) so I took out more money to help cover living expenses. I was lucky too because I had a friend who was willing to give me discounted rent on their basement apartment. I lived far away from school and work and I paid a lot to take the metro. I remember telling my sister, “I think I’m going to die all alone and in a basement”. It was a rough couple of months.

Graduate school cost me roughly $53,000. It would have cost closer to $78,000 had my partner and I not moved in together. I worked the whole time I was in graduate school at internships that either paid OK or just gave a small stipend. This is not enough to live on in D.C., let me tell you. I’m not really sure how a lot of my friends did it.

On top of the giant expense…I did not love graduate school, not even close.

So now I feel like I have bought into the course of life that you’re “supposed” to do to achieve your ideal career. But what I have is a lot of debt and no job to help support it.