So I'm back...with a brand new invention.
After much soul searching, a year of diving into the murky depths of academic administration and meeting with many, many professors and administrators and maintenance personnel; after buying a house that I am convinced was the wrong one for me and my family; after spending the year wallowing in budget reductions, work place drama, higher education literature which strongly suggests the end of higher education as we know it, and coming close to losing what was left of my post-dissertation brain, my wife and I put our collective feet down.
It began this way:
I was asked by the chair of a committee that reported directly to the president to join him and a few others on a team that looked at the ins and outs of our university. We explored the literature on the rise and failures of higher education, many folks calling for a technological takeover, the pricing bubble, and falling value of the degree coinciding with the rising costs of the degrees, etc. And then we met with literally hundreds of folks in and off campus...professors, adjuncts, administrators, board members, etc. As you can imagine, the members of this team were not popular on campus - more than once I was asked, "Does your own mother even like you?" But in this, one fact resurfaced over and over and over again. And that is this: the sticker price for four years of college for my young child, at a measly 5% annual tuition increase, would be upwards of $350,000 for four years.
As such, I am all but positive that there will be a disruptive intersection within the next 2-10 years.
My wife and I were driving home from church a few months ago and out of the blue she said, "we are no longer allowed to pray for poor people, hungry people, or orphans until we are giving money to the poor, feeding the hungry, and in the process of adopting a child."
Really profound spiritual moment for me.
After working through that profound statement, I began to be highly reflective, looking for ways my actions were not congruent with my actions. One of the most glaring was in regards to my student loans. Owing other people money. I counseled students on the horrors of debt and I looked up to those rare souls who do not owe other folks a nickel. I ranted and railed to anyone who would listen about my own educational loans and the financial burden that they put my a young family (our minimum payment is right at $1000 a month) but I simply wasn't doing anything about them. We were paying the minimums each month while also eyeing new vehicles, a better houses, etc. Oh yeah, and my loans were on a 30 year note. Seriously.
So my wife and I sent our little one to my folks house and headed to a local coffee shop. While there, we focused on two truths: We owe a high five-figure number in student loans between the two of us. Besides our home, that was the only money we owed someone else. Knowing that higher education - where we both work - will continue to be highly unsettled in the very near future, it is incredibly irresponsible to carry so much debt baggage. Additionally, we both come from houses of high debt and we felt that this was a golden opportunity to put a stick in the ground and say "from this point forward, we're going to live differently."
So we made a plan. I signed a part-time faculty contract to help with extra money. We sold our house and we're moving into a student housing complex on campus. We've committed to having these loans gone in a year. We're calling it our Opportunity.
Another sense has take over. Our original conversations were about getting to good financial footing. Not owing anyone anything. But the further along we have swam out from shore, the more something equally important has emerged.
I got into my work with college students for just that: to work with college students. And as many student affairs workers lament, the longer you work in student affairs, they less and less time you spend with students and the more and more time you spend romancing spreadsheets, assessment, running from meeting to meeting, and the like. This has become my my mission for carrying through with this plan. I am looking forward to interacting with students once again. Laughing at their crazy ideas. Lifting weights next to them in their fancy new gym. Being annoyed at 2:00 am when their parties really get going...extending their learning outside of the classroom as they watch me be a father and a husband.
I'm a pretty introverted guy. I'm really looking forward to calling my own bluff. To move in with hundreds of neighbors that I don't know and that I've never met and get to know them on a personal level. I know that this upcoming year will be long, difficult, exhausting, and a significant challenge. But I can't think of a better person in the world to have on my side in this adventure than my wife and I can't think of a better place to be launching out on this adventure.
So here we go...