Melissa Bruninga-Matteau, a medieval-history Ph.D. and adjunct professor who gets food stamps: “I’ve been able to make enough to live on. Until now.”
“I am not a welfare queen,” says Melissa Bruninga-Matteau.
That’s how she feels compelled to start a conversation about how she, a white woman with a Ph.D. in medieval history and an adjunct professor, came to rely on food stamps and Medicaid. Ms. Bruninga-Matteau, a 43-year-old single mother who teaches two humanities courses at Yavapai College, in Prescott, Ariz., says the stereotype of the people receiving such aid does not reflect reality. Recipients include growing numbers of people like her, the highly educated, whose advanced degrees have not insulated them from financial hardship.
“I find it horrifying that someone who stands in front of college classes and teaches is on welfare,” she says.
Ms. Bruninga-Matteau grew up in an upper-middle class family in Montana that valued hard work and saw educational achievement as the pathway to a successful career and a prosperous life. She entered graduate school at the University of California at Irvine in 2002, idealistic about landing a tenure-track job in her field. She never imagined that she’d end up trying to eke out a living, teaching college for poverty wages, with no benefits or job security.
Ms. Bruninga-Matteau always wanted to teach. She started working as an adjunct in graduate school. This semester she is working 20 hours each week, prepping, teaching, advising, and grading papers for two courses at Yavapai, a community college with campuses in Chino Valley, Clarkdale, Prescott, Prescott Valley, and Sedona. Her take-home pay is $900 a month, of which $750 goes to rent. Each week, she spends $40 on gas to get her to the campus; she lives 43 miles away, where housing is cheaper.
Ms. Bruninga-Matteau does not blame Yavapai College for her situation but rather the “systematic defunding of higher education.” In Arizona last year, Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, signed a budget that cut the state’s allocation to Yavapai’s operating budget from $4.3-million to $900,000, which represented a 7.6 percent reduction in the college’s operating budget. The cut led to an 18,000-hour reduction in the use of part-time faculty like Ms. Bruninga-Matteau.
“The media gives us this image that people who are on public assistance are dropouts, on drugs or alcohol, and are irresponsible,” she says. “I’m not irresponsible. I’m highly educated. I have a whole lot of skills besides knowing about medieval history, and I’ve had other jobs. I’ve never made a lot of money, but I’ve been able to make enough to live on. Until now.”
She’s irresponsible, because she expects the people who choose to study rather difficult and unpleasant subjects like nursing and computer science and economics to pay for her lifestyle through taxation and “higher education funding”. I do think it’s important to point out that the main driver of higher tuition is increasing government funding of education, and that this increasing funding of higher education is nothing but corporate welfare.
The most obvious way that colleges might capture federal student aid is by raising tuition. Research to date has been inconclusive, but Stephanie Riegg Cellini of George Washington University and Claudia Goldin of Harvard have provided compelling new analysis. Cellini and Goldin looked at for-profit colleges, utilizing the key distinction that only some for-profit schools are eligible for federal aid. Riegg and Goldin find that that aid-eligible institutions “charge much higher tuition … across all states, samples, and specifications,” even when controlling for the content and quality of courses. The 75 percent difference in tuition between aid-eligible and ineligible for-profit colleges — an amount comparable to average per-student federal assistance — suggests that “institutions may indeed raise tuition to capture the maximum grant aid available.”
Here are some of the comments that I posted in a Facebook discussion about the CHE story:
I know that some may disagree with me, but this is why people need to focus on STEM fields and stay away from artsy stuff and Ph.Ds in general. We are in a recession. Trade school and STEM degrees only until things improve.
Also, no single motherhood by choice. Get married before you have children, and make sure you vet the husband carefully for his ability to protect, provide, commit and lead on moral and spiritual issues. This woman is not a victim. She chose her life, and the rest of us are paying for it. Nice tattoos by the way – that will really help when she’s looking for a job.
I am actually better at English than computer science, but I find myself with a BS and MS in computer science. We don’t get to do what we like. We do what we have to in order to be effective as Christians. According to the Bible, men have an obligation to not engage in premarital sex, and to marry before having children, and to provide for their families, or they have denied the faith. I would like to have studied English, but the Bible says no way.
I have no problem with people who can make a career out of the arts, like a Robert George or a William Lane Craig. But you can’t just go crazy. And I think men have a lot less freedom than women to choose their major, we have the obligation to be providers and we have to be selected by women based on whether we can fulfill that role (among other roles).
Women have more freedom because they are not saddled with the provider role like men are. However, I think that the times now are different than before. There is more discrimination against conservatives on campus in non-STEM fields and fewer non-STEM jobs in a competitive global economy. The safest fields are things like petroleum engineering, software engineering, etc.
If [people who major in the humanities] can make a living and support a family without relying on government-controlled redistribution of wealth, then I salute and encourage you. If you rely on the government, know that this money is being taken away from those who are doing things they don’t like at all in order to be independent and self-reliant. It is never good to be dependent on government. That money comes from people like me.
In response to an artsy challenger:
I am happy to be scorned by those who make poor choices so long as I can have my money back from them so that I can pursue my dreams. I didn’t see any of these artsy people in the lab at 4 AM completing their operating system class assignments, nor do I see them here working overtime on the weekend in the office. They can say anything and feel anything they want, and write plays and poetry all about their feelings, too. Just give me the money I earned back first. It’s not their money. They have no right to it.
One person asked why I was “always winter, never Christmas, and I replied:
It is Christmas for the Christians who I send books and DVDs to, as well as for the Christian scholars I support, and the Christian conferences, debates and lectures I underwrite across the world. Unfortunately, every dollar taken from me is a dollar less for that Ph.D tuition of a Christian debater, a dollar less for the flight of that Christian apologetics speaker, a dollar less for that textbook for that Christian biology student, and a dollar less for the flowers being sent to that post-abortive woman who I counseled who is now in law school. I have a need for the money I earn, and when it’s sent to Planned Parenthood to pay for abortions by the government, my plan to serve God suffers. And finally, should I ever get married, I would like my wife to have the option of staying home with the children and even homeschooling them. That costs money. Somehow, I feel that given the choice between my homeschooling wife and the public school unions, the government will choose to give my money to the unions. Just a hunch.
I think that people should go into the humanities when they are serious about making a career of it and can get the highest grades. But if they are coasting and only getting Bs and Cs and not paying attention in class, then drop out and go to trade school. Don’t complain later when you can’t find a job. STEM careers pay the most.
Here’s my previous post on the woman who accumulated $185,000 of student debt studying the humanities and is likewise demanding handouts and claiming not to be responsible.