Monday, November 17, 2014

Real world math

This is really in nicoleandmaggie's wheelhouse, not mine, but here goes. It's more of a link roundup than a post with a point.

  • The NY Times has been running good articles on saving for college, including some that talk about what to do if parents haven't saved for college, another that tracks declining support for state institutions, and a third that explains why rating institutions won't help lower costs. There was one recently (I can't find it now) that was shocked to realize that FAFSA (and CSS, the private version) counts everything as an asset, including retirement accounts, which are dangerously treated as funds to be tapped for college. (The unmentioned corollary is that neither FAFSA or CSS has any interest in listing debts, like car loans or mortgages--just assets.)
    • How likely is it that there could be significant overlap between the academics saving for retirement (below) and those who, having had children in their mid-30s to 40s, are 18 years later confronting the realities of college costs? I think you know the answer to this one.
    • Although students are applying for many more colleges than before (too many, says this article), part of the reason is that they want to play schools' financial package offers against one another once they're accepted. One piece of advice from one of the articles: if you play this game, make sure that the financial aid package is for more than a year. I've known parents who have steered students to the school with the best package of aid, only to have that aid dry up after the first year when it's tough to change. 
  • Over at The Chronicle, "Retire Already!"  speaks to us from a land of sunshine and unicorns, where everyone has a million dollars saved up for retirement and the only factor keeping anyone 55+ from retiring is their selfish, limpet-like clinging to jobs. But here are two hypothetical scenarios for faculty members; which one sounds more like the people you know? (Both are purely hypothetical, based on what I've read at The Chronicle and on comments.)
    • Golden Child graduates with a PhD at 28, immediately lands a tenure-track job, progresses up the ladder with raises every year and the expected promotions, has a lavish retirement package, and jets off to fabulous places (or like the writer above, accepts fabulous artist-in-residence residencies) when she retires at 65.
    • Regular Person finished a PhD in her mid to late 30s, gets a TT job at 40-45, and goes through several years of no raises at all, not because of merit but because of the recession and flatlining funding. Promotions are forthcoming, but because of salary compression, she makes less as an associate than her new-minted assistant colleagues. She has 15- 20 years, until "Retire, Already!" says she should stop, to save up enough money, at 6% of her salary per year or whatever the retirement plan is,  to last the rest of her life--say, 30 more years if she retires at 65.


nicoleandmaggie said...

I didn't (and don't) think that retirement accounts are included on the FAFSA.

They're reported for the CSS but only used by some schools.

We have a discussion/rant queued up on this topic for sometime in a month or two, I think. (Mainly about how this focus on high earners who aren't seriously high earners makes us play teeny tiny violins. Because boohoo, your take-home pay is only 74K/year instead of 110K/year because you didn't save for college and won't take out loans.) I do think declining support for colleges and universities is incredibly important, but children of people in my income bracket aren't my main focus of concern.

undine said...

nicoleandmaggie--you're right; that is for CSS, not FAFSA.

I'm interested in declining support at all levels, but mostly in the finger-pointing going on about who should get the tiny pieces of the pie when the real issue is (1) declining support at the government level and (2) a student loan crisis caused by a system that hampers graduates with debt.

undine said...

Sorry--should be mostly NOT in the finger-pointing about who can afford what but in the structural decimation of public education.

Bardiac said...

I'm guessing professors at fancy places like Hofstra are less overworked than those of us at regional public schools, because I see my colleagues trying to balance their desire to escape the endless addition of administrivial tasks with their desire not to be homeless in a few years, and those aren't easy to balance, not at all.

I'd like to see how things break down in other sorts of schools; at my own department, I think three of the 20 or so tenured folks in my department are over 60, with about 5 or 6 in our 50s, and so forth, down to people in their 30s.

Janice said...

The part about "Retire Already" that made my laugh turn bitter was the blithe assurance that this will open up a tenure-track replacement. It might have done so in the past. It does not do so these days and no matter how many well-paid senior faculty retire, there are many institutions letting lines die left, right and centre!

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

We've been told by our chair that our medievalist will not be replaced when she retires, which is sad because medievalists are awesome, and it's a wonderful time period to study. But maybe if we get a new chair we'll sing a new tune. Who knows?

Anyway, the English TT people in my department are all 50 or older, except me. 3 out of 5 are in their 60s, then one is 50, and I'm 38. I feel like I'll be 50 before we get a new hire. It's hard being the only "young person" in English. I'm often treated like a revolutionary for doing things that are normal in the profession, like publishing and using technology regularly. It's disorienting.

Contingent Cassandra said...

Amen on the "retire already!" stuff. I can certainly see how frustrating it would be for tenured faculty who fit the 2nd profile (and yes, most I know come much closer to that one than the first); it's downright frightening for someone like me -- past 50, and in a full-time non-tenure-track job that's about as decent as they come (health and retirement benefits, multi-year contract), but still pays a little under 2/3 of what a tenured position at the same rank at my university would pay (I'm coming up on my 15th year at the school, and am well past my 20th year in the classroom, and I'm still not making the minimum salary for a tenure-track assistant professor, however green. Of course, in the current climate, the TT assistant professors we hire aren't very green, but still. . . ). Add to that the fact that I'm a lit Ph.D. who teaches in a writing program at a time when rhet & comp Ph.D. programs are expanding, based on the (dubious, to my mind) premise that there *will* be jobs for their graduates, and I worry a good deal about being involuntarily retired before I can afford it. Perhaps the only good news (besides the fact that I don't have student loans, thanks to parental generosity for my undergrad years and a fellowship aimed at addressing the predicted shortage of humanities Ph.D.s i the '90s(!) for grad school) is that my social security retirement age is somewhere around 67, with the largest benefit kicking in around 70, so perhaps I can argue a bit longer that I'm not, in fact, "retirement age."

And yes, Janice makes an excellent point. My department, too, has been told that retirement replacements are no longer automatic. That seems to be pretty standard, at least in the humanities, these days.

undine said...

Bardiac--"desire not to be homeless in a few years"--this is never addressed, never, in the "retire, already" articles that The Chronicle runs on a regular basis. I read one time that more women fear this than men, as if that's irrational, but hey, we *live* longer and have less retirement, so why is that irrational? (Well, maybe a little irrational.)

Janice--Exactly. The "retire and give a younger PhD a job" thing is specious, since that doesn't happen much any more. The lines get absorbed by administration. I sometimes wonder if people like "Retire, Already" have any knowledge that that's what happens.

Fie--I am poor at guessing people's ages, so I'm not sure what the distribution is in our department. Tech use is well distributed among all age cohorts, though, which drives a stake through the heart of one of Retire, Already's points.

Contingent Cassandra--It's good that you don't have loans and that your department seems pretty stable.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Because of salary compression, the "green" new hires are still likely to make more than you, Cassandra, and even more than people in the tenured positions. That is, they're more expensive. So that's a point for your job security.

That essay was SO annoying I couldn't finish reading it.

profacero said...

So, what I had to do about college was just not pay for it. They worked and went here. One has job in business in Austin now and the other is finishing PhD in UK so they have survived. I'd have paid for college and all had I had money, but I did not.