I’m tired of the phrase “toxic Meliora.”
Yes, I agree, this school sucks the life out of us. But I take issue with the administration’s choice to explicitly tie course overloads with “toxic Meliora” culture in their most recent update to the overload policy, which implies chronic overloading is the source of student complaints about being overworked and subsequent burnout. It seems a bit out-of-touch with reality.
First, the pressure to overload course credits (or any kind of work) is not a phenomenon confined to UR; rather, it’s a function of our society. Students across institutions are increasingly looking toward some form of graduate school as their next step, andhile these schools receive more applicants, they are not increasing their class sizes. So, students respond by packing their resumes with relevant working experience and proof of interest in hopes of appealing to admissions counselors. At UR, this can translate to adding independent research courses and study-related classes, which leads to overloading.
Let’s back up for a second. There was no unspoken referendum among college students to suddenly gain interest in graduate school. Instead, the ever-increasing price of college and stagnant wages has made the higher paying jobs “guaranteed” by graduate schools more enticing. This highlights a major player in student exhaustion: the rising cost of college education.
I don’t know about you, but the nearly $80,000 per semester price doesn’t make sense to me (I think we know where the money is going, but that’s beside the point). It should be noted the cost of tuition alone has risen nearly 40% in the last 10 years, from $42,000 to $58,000. At the same time, median family income has only increased 13% over the same period.
All of these numbers considered, students have been left with the choice to take out increasingly massive student loans or work during the school year, many choosing a combination of the two just to survive.
Many of the students seeking employment are recipients of federal work study, a program which provides part-time jobs to students with financial need to pay for educational expenses. Students who receive federal work study (FWS) are anticipated to take on 10 to 12 additional working hours each week to pay for their education and survive on campus. Without this income, many FWS students would be unable to enjoy “out-of-pocket personal expenses,” code for the social experiences essential to destressing. Yet working these additional hours is the equivalent of adding another four-credit course, which, according to the administration’s most recent email, should take 16-credit students from 48 to 60 hours of work per semester.
This problem is not confined to FWS students, however, and affects student employees and students with off-campus jobs For instance, students working off-campus must satisfy employers who expect 20 hours/week minimum for many entry-level positions. Those hours quickly add up with the commute to and from work, plus the 16-credit hour schedule required to graduate on time.
In my eyes, “toxic Meliora” culture is not unique to our university. It should not be defined by overloaded schedules, which represent students attempting to gain some control over their financial stability. This rhetoric implicates students as their own oppressors and shrug off the very real responsibilities school administrators have to ensure access to education is equitable.
Luckily, solutions do exist. First, cooperative education (alternating semesters of academic study with periods of full-time work) integrates opportunities for students to gain work-related skills with the curriculum. For students seeking more diverse work but lacking opportunities within the 16-credit system, co-ops offer access to post-bac jobs and skills relevant to grad school.
Most importantly, students who receive federal work study should simply be given those funds without having to work for them. The idea that low-income students are expected to work to afford the same educational experience as everyone else is absurd. Plus, many students who are offered FWS are unable to use it all or even get jobs on campus, which creates additional stress in the form of compounded financial insecurity.
Supervisors must recognize a student’s time is a valuable commodity. Four credits of independent research is equivalent to 10-12 hours of research-related work per week, and no more. There is no excuse for disregarding the mental health of student researchers, so independent research credit must be better regulated. More frequent audits and diligent tracking from student-researcher pairings can help ensure independent research and study courses are not infringing upon students’ ability to provide for themselves and their mental health.
Or maybe UR should charge less. After all, there still isn’t any food on the STEM quad.