*Imagine an industry that virtually guarantees higher earnings for those involved in it. And because of this institutions in this industry are able to turn away potential customers.
Imagine also that despite turning away potential customers, and being classified as non-profit entities, most institutions in this industry consistently record annual profits.
Now consider the labor force at these institutions. Most people working at these places are treated well through just compensation and health care coverage. However a small but visible minority (particularly visible to the customers in this industry) are exploited and have their highly specialized and rare skill sets used for the betterment of the institution while not receiving just compensation.
The situation you imagine is that of higher education in this country.
I typically highlight the exploitation that is present in college athletics. And many athletes are getting the short end of the stick. Prestigious college football and basketball programs generate millions of dollars every year through game receipts and payouts for post-season invitations. Furthermore a successful football or basketball team leads to increased standard revenue streams because more people will apply to the school giving the school a chance to choose people who will pay more in tuition. In addition donations increase when “the team” is winning.
When I worked soliciting alumni donations to the University of Pittsburgh we were instructed to highlight the football team’s record when they were 2-0 and getting votes to be ranked in the top 25; some people began the conversation with a comment about the football team.
But obviously not every college/university has a successful football program. But just about every university has a rotating crop of graduate students and many colleges employ them as well.
At major universities graduate students in the humanities and social sciences are given the task of evaluating undergrad students in introductory courses. At smaller colleges graduate students are given adjunct positions to accomplish the same tasks. Graduate students in the science disciplines vie for apprenticeships in which they essentially do the leg work for the standing faculty members.
In all of these situations graduate students are compensated but not on a fair scale given their specialized set of skill and/or knowledge.
I have personal knowledge of this aspect of the exploitation involved in the higher education labor market as well. I have experienced teaching discussion courses at a major university as well as adjuncting. But lest you believe that this is the sour grapes associated with my personal history, everything I have experienced in specific circumstances affects scores of others more generally.
In all of these instances (elite student athletes and graduate students of various disciplines), the main compensation is the education given. And there is no denying that the cost of tuition (to say nothing of room and board) for four to five years is a substantial prize. Nevertheless it is not so much that health care could not be added for graduate students charged with educating the majority of students in a specific discipline; and it is certainly not enough to balance out the millions generated for the colleges and universities on the backs of future professional athletes.
Colleges and universities have almost a monopoly on the product of preparation. Political leaders create programs so that it is easier for individuals to go to college and in doing so increase the revenue of these institutions. But in being classified as non-profit entities they should be in the business of compensating those who do invaluable work for them more fairly. Such compensation may be impossible for some student-athletes but in that case colleges should remove roadblocks to alternate forms of compensation.
It is the smart thing to do.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.