New PLUS Loan Credit Standards (Just in time for school!)

On August 7th, the U.S. Department of Education proposed new regulations to implement new PLUS Loan credit standards.

The draft regulations include provisions similar to those recommended by the negotiated rulemaking committee, which included Dr. David Swinton, president of Benedict College and Dr. George T. French Jr., president of Miles College.  UNCF believes that the proposed changes student debtcould result in approximately 15,000 HBCU students previously denied PLUS Loans now becoming eligible upon their initial application.  The key provisions of the proposed rules are below:

  • A parent or graduate student with up to $2,085 in debt that is delinquent for 90 days or more would NOT be considered to have an “adverse credit history” in the initial PLUS Loan eligibility determination. Under the current regulation, as little as $1 in delinquent debt could result in loan denial.
  •  A parent or graduate student with delinquent debt exceeding $2,085 during the two years preceding the date of their credit check would be considered to have an adverse credit history and would be denied a PLUS Loan. Currently, the Education Department reviews delinquent debt for the prior five years.
  • The Secretary would have authority to adjust the $2,085 exemption over time to account for inflation, on a basis determined by the Secretary.
  • A parent or graduate student with other types of negative credit events, e.g. defaults, foreclosures, bankruptcy, repossession, tax lien, wage garnishment or write-off of a Title IV debt, during the five years preceding the date of their credit check would be considered to have an adverse credit history, resulting in loan denial. This is the same as the current regulation; however, these negative credit events are a small proportion of all denials.
  •  Similar to the current regulation, the Secretary would retain the authority to reconsider parents and graduate students who have been denied PLUS Loans, based on the determination that extenuating circumstances exist.  The regulatory proposal also provides that the parent or student considered for PLUS Loan approval under extenuating circumstances must complete loan counseling offered by the Secretary.

In the NPRM, the Department reveals several future actions, apart from the rulemaking process, that it is planning regarding PLUS Loans. The Department indicates that it will offer voluntary entrance counseling to all parent PLUS Loan applicants to provide information on required monthly payments and expand current online financial tools to include a PLUS-specific loan calculator.  In addition, the Department intends to collect and publish information about PLUS Loans, including default rate information based on the credit history characteristics of PLUS loan applicants and individual institutional default rates.

The Department plans to publish the final PLUS Loan rules by November 1, 2014, which would allow parents to take out a PLUS Loan under the new criteria for the 2015-16 school year. However, in response to UNCF’s appeals that the new rules become effective sooner, the Department is willing to consider quicker implementation before the 2015-16 school year begins.

There is a 30-day public comment period on the proposed rules, ending on September 6, 2014, during which interested persons and stakeholders can weigh in with their comments.  The Department of Education will then consider these comments in developing the final PLUS Loan regulations.


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Filed under College, Department of Education, Dr. Sa, Dr. SaFiya D. Hoskins, economics, Education, financing education, Paying for college, PLUS Loan, President David Swinton, President George French, student debt, Student Loans, UNCF

African Leaders Summit: 5 Reasons it is Important

By any measure it’s historic: The vast majority of Africa’s leaders flying to Washington at the invite of the President, whose father was born on the continent, to mark what the White House hopes is a new era of cooperation.

While plans for the first African Leaders Summit this week in the nation’s capital are ambitious, the reality is the United States still has strides to make on the kind of political and economic relationships in Africa that can benefit both sides.

Other nations, namely China, have turned their focus to the continent as a trade partner. Terrorist networks have expanded their reach in some countries, most notably in Nigeria, where hundreds of schoolgirls remain at large after being kidnapped earlier this year. And while U.S.-backed efforts have helped slow the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa, countries there rate among the lowest in life expectancy and infant mortality.

“The importance of this for America needs to be understood,” President Barack Obama said on Friday about the summit.

He added later that Africa “happens to be one of the continents where America is most popular and people feel a real affinity for our way of life.”Obama at Summit

Here are five reasons that the U.S.-Africa Leader’s Summit, which kicked off on Monday, is important:

1. Health scare: The health problems in Africa were underscored this week when an Ebola outbreak prompted leaders of two nations to cancel their trips to Washington.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and Ernest Bai Koroma, the leader of Sierra Leone, both said they would remain in their countries.

Ebola has killed more than 700 people in three nations: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra.

Summit leaders, and even Obama, have stressed there is no risk to Washingtonians from those arriving from Africa this week.

Obama said anyone who might have been exposed to the virus would be screened both in their home countries and upon arrival in the United States.

But worry over the worsening outbreak only highlighted challenges Africa faces in combating disease and poverty, despite the billions in U.S. aid over the years.

“This is an uphill challenge for them,” said Gayle Smith, Obama’s senior director for development and Democracy, noting both Liberia and Sierra Leone had recently emerged from periods of civil war.

Obama hopes to move past the traditional elements of humanitarian aid to Africa, focusing instead on potential trade.

But promoting commercial ties with countries engulfed in Ebola outbreaks could prove to be difficult. The State Department warned against non-essential travel to Sierra Leone and Libera last week, and some schools and businesses have closed.

“The timing is very unfortunate, and no one would have wished for this,” said Howard French, an associate professor of international affairs at Columbia University. “Having high-level discussions between the U.S. and Africa on business and investment are infrequent. So to the extent that this distracts from that I think will be regretted all around.”

2. Security challenges: Another potential barrier to U.S. investment in Africa: Growing extremism on the continent, which has overwhelmed certain governments.

The most flagrant example came earlier this summer, when the group Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 school girls in Nigeria. The incident prompted international outrage and so far, a U.S.-backed team has not located them.

Nigeria-based Boko Haram opposes western-style education, and there are fears the group’s influence could be crossing borders.

Last month, armed gunman suspected to be Boko Haram militants abducted the wife of Cameroon’s deputy prime minister.

Intra-country sniping has followed. Nigeria has expressed frustration with Cameroon for not doing enough to fight Boko Haram on its side of the border, a charge Cameroon has denied.

The unrest has inflicted damage on African economies, including Nigeria’s, the largest on the continent. Other African nations combating violent extremism, like Mali, Kenya and Somalia, are also tough sells for U.S. investment.

Many of those nations want more U.S. assistance to counter militants, sentiments likely to be expressed at this week’s summit.

“We are concerned about efforts by terrorist groups to gain a foothold in Africa,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser.

He pointed to U.S. counterterror efforts that aim to partner with nations in stemming unrest.

“We’re looking at how do we get at the broader issue of countering violent extremism in Africa so that these groups, like Boko Haram, like al-Shabaab, like al-Qaeda, are not able to prey on young people with disinformation and intimidation,” he said.

3. Countering China: The United States has some catching up to do in Africa when it comes to trade and investment.

China’s imports of African oil and natural minerals have skyrocketed over the past two decades. Alongside have come massive Chinese investments in African infrastructure and construction projects, manned by waves of Chinese workers who ended up remaining in Africa. More than a million Chinese citizens now live there.

“Africa is in a very particular moment, economically speaking,” said French during an interview with CNNI from Nairobi. “The continent has been growing very fast. Demographically, there’s a bulge in terms of it’s youth population. And Africa needs partnerships.”

Obama wants to make sure the United States is one of those partners, and a more attractive one than China.

“My advice to African leaders is to make sure that if, in fact, China is putting in roads and bridges, number one, that they’re hiring African workers; number two, that the roads don’t just lead from the mine to the port to Shanghai, but that there’s an ability for the African governments to shape how this infrastructure is going to benefit them in the long term,” Obama told The Economist last week.

4. Cementing legacy: Obama’s two predecessors both secured legacy achievements in Africa — Bill Clinton through his African Growth and Opportunity Act, and George W. Bush through his program combating HIV/AIDS.

Obama similarly hopes for a way to leave his mark on the continent after he leaves office, though his status as the first president of African descent has already made history.

That fact led some Africans to regard Obama with outsized expectations when he took office in 2009, leading to some disappointment that he hasn’t focused more on shoring up U.S.-Africa ties.

During his time in office, Obama has focused on terrorism, uprisings in the Arab world, Russian provocations, and the much-awaited pivot to Asia.

Obama made his first presidential trip to sub-Saharan Africa in 2009 when he visited Ghana. He didn’t return again until 2013 with tour of Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa.

He’s embarked upon an initiative that aims to bring electricity to more Africans, and a program supporting young leaders working toward Democratic governments.

Both are elements to a legacy designed to shore up conditions for individuals on the continent.

And the summit itself, while not expected to produce any large-scale trade agreements, is meant to signal a shift from purely humanitarian assistance to a two-way partnership.

“We believe it can be a game-changer in the U.S.-Africa relationship,” Rhodes said of the summit.

5. Not invited: While the bulk of Africa’s leaders will be in Washington, the continent’s most reviled leaders won’t be attending. They include Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir.

They weren’t invited because of their alleged human rights abuses.

Other controversial leaders — like Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, accused of crimes at the International Criminal Court — will attend.

Like any major diplomatic gathering, the Africa Leaders Summit has been an exercise in protocol and careful planning.

Instead of meeting with leaders separately, Obama has been scheduled for larger group discussions, to the disappointment of some who wanted to talk to him one-on-one.

“We just wouldn’t be able to do bilats with everybody, and so the simplest thing is for the President to devote his time to engaging broadly with all the leaders. That way we’re not singling out individuals at the expense of the other leaders,” Rhodes said.

He noted Obama would speak with each leader individually during a dinner at the White House on Tuesday.

That event has taken on state dinner-type proportions, with a large tent constructed on the South Lawn. Organizers have the added stress of accommodating leaders of 50 nations, all with varied religious and cultural sensitivities that must be respected.

For example, servers must know who drinks alcohol and who abstains for religious reasons.

It’s a reflection of just how diverse Africa is, and how high the stakes are for Obama as he forges new relationships there.

By Kevin Liptak, CNN White House producer

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Filed under Africa, America, Culture, Dr. Sa, Dr. SaFiya D. Hoskins, economics, Education, Health, International, President Obama, United States

Things Successful People Don’t Do!

There are zillions of articles on the must-dos of successful people. But there are also things that they don’t do, and they can be just as important on your path to success.

They don’t:

  • Spend precious time feeling sorry for themselves. They take responsibility and don’t complain. After a setback, you’ll hear ‘em say, “Oh well.” And then they move on.
  • Cringe at change. They in fact embrace change and consider it a challenge. To them, an environment filled with the possibilities of change is the best to work in because it has energy and can bring out the best in people.
  • Acquiesce their power. They understand that their strength revolves around their skills at managing how they respond. Power means keeping control of your emotions and actions, and that is not something you want to put in anyone else’s hands.
  • Spend time or energy on stuff that is out of their hands. A successful person will probably not whine about long lines, traffic or others. These are things they can’t control, and to spend precious time and energy on them is fruitless.
  • Fear risks. It’s not that they will jump into something… they will take a calculated risk. They will weigh the benefits against the risks before they go all in or step away.
  • Worry about that others think. That’s not to say they won’t speak up or defend their position. They just tend to be fair and even kind as they navigate their way through a situation where someone could get upset. It’s called finesse.
  • Make the same mistake. A successful person learns from a failure or loss and doesn’t let it happen again. They won’t try to get different results from the same actions.
  • Live for glory days. They don’t dwell on things that happened long ago and far away. They make their biggest investment in creating a fantastic present and amazing future!
  • Give up! Ever! They consider failure as a chance to improve, not give up. Failure is a learning experience to them that will provide the knowledge to eventually reach their goal.
  • Envy other people. That’s a big no-no. Successful people do not resent other people’s success. They show genuine happiness and use the success of another to fuel their own quest.
  • Avoid time alone. Actually, they enjoy some alone time to reflect and plan ahead. While a successful person does enjoy the company of others, he/she can also be content to sit alone and read or rest.
  • Expect quick success. They are in it to win it, and that could take years. Patience is indeed a virtue! They don’t expect immediate results, whether it’s with a weight loss program or a business venture.
  • Think they are owed something. Just because they have a college degree or already achieved a certain level of success, they don’t expect that the rest of the world owes them a big salary, amazing benefits or free lunch. They are always ready to work for what they want and desire.

 From Farrah Gray



Farrah Gray

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Filed under Beauty Brains & the Bottom Line, Dr. Sa, Dr. SaFiya D. Hoskins, Education, From Poverty to Prosperity, Perspective, Positive Thinking, Power of the mind

8 College Degrees That Will Earn Your Money Back

Is College Still Worth the Money? Maybe.

As the cost of education continues to skyrocket and job prospects remain less than robust in a tough economy, the answer to the question, “What are you majoring in?” seems more important than ever.

There’s no getting around it. Education is expensive. A four-year degree at a public university costs, on average, $37,343, while an education at a private school will set you back $121,930. While statistics show that a college degree will undoubtedly open doors and increase your earning potential, you need to choose your degree carefully to ensure you’re making a wise investment.goodroi_intro

Last week, we highlighted 8 college degrees with a poor return on investment. This week, we’ll head to the other end of the spectrum and show you 8 college degrees with great ROI (in no particular order), as well as some examples of jobs within each industry.


Calculate ROI for a specific degree, we first determined the overall cost of the degree. We allowed the degree holder four years to graduate. Using data from a recent College Board study, we assigned a figure of $37,343 as an average cost of a four-year public liberal arts degree, and a figure of $121,930 for degrees earned at four-year private colleges. The total cost included tuition, room and board, and books, and did not factor in scholarships or grants. We then determined the median cash compensation over the course of 30 years of typical jobs requiring that degree using data. We used current figures, but added 4.3% per year to account for inflation and cost of living increases. To determine ROI, we subtracted the cost of the degree from the gains over 30 years, then divided that figure by cost.

8. Math

If you love crunching numbers and solving complex problems, there are lots of career options for math majors with a great ROI. But of course you don’t need me to do the math! Here are three jobs commonly held by math majors (click on job title and/or salary for more information):

Median Salary: $70,029
30-Year Earnings: $4,130,308
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 110%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 33%

Median Salary: $146,456
30-Year Earnings: $8,637,969
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 230%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 70%

Median Salary: $76,241
30-Year Earnings: $4,496,691
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 119%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 36%

7. Information Technology

While the rest of us are happy when we find the computer’s “on” switch, IT majors actually know what’s going on inside. Here are three jobs commonly held by Information Technology majors:

Median Salary: $80,584
30-Year Earnings: $4,752,841
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 126%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 38%

Median Salary: $109,604
30-Year Earnings: $6,464,440
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 172%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 52%

Median Salary: $107,578
30-Year Earnings: $6,344,946
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 169%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 51%

6. Human Resources

Human resources majors serve as the gatekeepers to organizations, reviewing resumes, managing the hiring and firing processes, and developing policies that ensure employees are happy, healthy, and productive. Here are three jobs commonly held by human resources majors:

Median Salary: $94,978
30-Year Earnings: $5,601,799
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 149%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 45%

Median Salary: $88,916
30-Year Earnings: $5,244,262
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 139%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 42%

Median Salary: $87,184
30-Year Earnings: $5,142,109
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 137%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 41%

5. Economics

If you’re interested in how things are produced, distributed, and consumed, consider a major in economics. Three jobs held by economics majors include:

Median Salary: $115,671
30-Year Earnings: $6,822,271
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 182%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 55%

Median Salary: $108,732
30-Year Earnings: $6,413,009
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 171%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 52%

Median Salary: $142,921
30-Year Earnings: $8,429,475
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 225%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 68%

4. Biology

If you’re fascinated with the natural world, you can use that passion to make a good living by choosing to study biology. Three jobs held by biology majors include:

Median Salary: $85,292
30-Year Earnings: $5,030,519
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 134%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 40%

Median Salary: $72,812
30-Year Earnings: $4,294,449
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 114%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 34%

Median Salary: $71,758
30-Year Earnings: $4,232,284
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 114%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 34%

3. Engineering

Were you the kid who drove your parents crazy taking the toasters apart and putting them back together? Engineering majors have excellent problem solving skills and a knack for developing products, devices, and systems. Three jobs held by engineering majors include:

Median Salary: $75,225
30-Year Earnings: $4,436,768
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 118%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 35%

Median Salary: $71,715
30-Year Earnings: $4,229,748
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 112%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 34%

Median Salary: $91,997
30-Year Earnings: $5,425,980
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 144%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 44%

2. Marketing

If you’re interested in why people make the decisions they do, have excellent leadership qualities and the ability to persuade, and could sell ice to Eskimos, then consider majoring in marketing. Three jobs held by marketing majors include:

Median Salary: $86,591
30-Year Earnings: $5,107,134
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 136%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 41%

Median Salary: $92,216
30-Year Earnings: $5,438, 896
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 145%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 44%

Median Salary: $86,127
30-Year Earnings: $5,079,767
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 135%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 41%

1. English

What could be better? For four years you do lots of writing and reading, you talk about writing and reading, then follow up with more writing and reading. Then, the sky’s the limit. Common jobs held by English majors include:

Median Salary: $78,011
30-Year Earnings: $4,601,086
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 122%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 37%

Median Salary: $88,498
30-Year Earnings: $5,219,609
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 139%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 42%

Median Salary: $79,674
30-Year Earnings: $4,699,170
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Public College: 125%
ROI of Degree Earner Attending Private College: 38%

Make Your Money Count, But Do What You Love

When all is said and done, the best way to get the biggest bang for your education buck is to truly love what you do. But while few things contribute to your ultimate earning power like passion and excelling at what you do, it doesn’t hurt to know you’ll be able to pay off those college loans a little sooner!

Original article by Dawn Dugan:


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Freud is Laughing (‘to keep from crying’)

In Sigmund Freud’sThe Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious, he argues that the energy released in laughter is not the energy of the repressed emotion itself (the safety-valve model) but the psychic energy that would have been used to repress the thoughts or feelings if the joke had not allowed them to enter our conscious minds. A joke about an undertaker allows our fear of death to be expressed, and the laughter is the “letting off” of the surplus psychic energy that would otherwise have been used to repress it. The more energy it would have taken to repress the fear, the bigger the laugh will be.


Sigmund Freud

Adapted from, Mary Beard, What’s So Funny?

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Our unrealistic views of death, through a doctor’s eyes [an MDs perspective]

I know where this phone call is going. I’m on the hospital wards, and a physician in the emergency room downstairs is talking to me about an elderly patient who needs to be admitted to the hospital. The patient is new to me, but the story is familiar: He has several chronic conditions — heart failure, weak kidneys, anemia, Parkinson’s and mild dementia — all tentatively held in check by a fistful of medications. He has been falling more frequently, and his appetite has fallen off, too. Now a stroke threatens to topple this house of cards.

The ER physician and I talk briefly about what can be done. The stroke has driven the patient’s blood pressure through the roof, aggravating his heart failure, which in turn is threatening his fragile kidneys. The stroke is bad handsenough that, given his disabilities related to his Parkinson’s, he will probably never walk again. In elderly patients with a web of medical conditions, the potential complications of any therapy are often large and the benefits small. It’s a medical checkmate; all moves end in abdication.

I head to the ER. If I’m lucky, the family will accept the news that, in a time when we can separate conjoined twins and reattach severed limbs, people still wear out and die of old age. If I’m lucky, the family will recognize that their loved one’s life is nearing its end.

But I’m not always lucky. The family may ask me to use my physician superpowers to push the patient’s tired body further down the road, with little thought as to whether the additional suffering to get there will be worth it. For many Americans, modern medical advances have made death seem more like an option than an obligation. We want our loved ones to live as long as possible, but our culture has come to view death as a medical failure rather than life’s natural conclusion.

These unrealistic expectations often begin with an overestimation of modern medicine’s power to prolong life, a misconception fueled by the dramatic increase in the American life span over the past century. To hear that the average U.S. life expectancy was 47 years in 1900 and 78 years as of 2007, you might conclude that there weren’t a lot of old people in the old days — and that modern medicine invented old age. But average life expectancy is heavily skewed by childhood deaths, and infant mortality rates were high back then. In 1900, the U.S. infant mortality rate was approximately 100 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. In 2000, the rate was 6.89 infant deaths per 1,000 live births.

The bulk of that decline came in the first half of the century, from simple public health measures such as improved sanitation and nutrition, not open heart surgery, MRIs or sophisticated medicines. Similarly, better obstetrical education and safer deliveries in that same period also led to steep declines in maternal mortality, so that by 1950, average life expectancy had catapulted to 68 years.

For all its technological sophistication and hefty price tag, modern medicine may be doing more to complicate the end of life than to prolong or improve it. If a person living in 1900 managed to survive childhood and childbearing, she had a good chance of growing old. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a person who made it to 65 in 1900 could expect to live an average of 12 more years; if she made it to 85, she could expect to go another fouryears. In 2007, a 65-year-old American could expect to live, on average, another 19 years; if he made it to 85, he could expect to go another six years.

Another factor in our denial of death has more to do with changing demographics than advances in medical science. Our nation’s mass exodus away from the land and an agricultural existence and toward a more urban lifestyle means that we’ve antiseptically left death and the natural world behind us. At the beginning of the Civil War, 80 percent of Americans lived in rural areas and 20 percent lived in urban ones. By 1920, with the Industrial Revolution in full swing, the ratio was around 50-50; as of 2010, 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas.

For most of us living with sidewalks and street lamps, death has become a rarely witnessed, foreign event. The most up-close death my urban-raised children have experienced is the occasional walleye being reeled toward doom on a family fishing trip or a neighborhood squirrel sentenced to death-by-Firestone. The chicken most people eat comes in plastic wrap, not at the end of a swinging cleaver. The farmers I take care of aren’t in any more of a hurry to die than my city-dwelling patients, but when death comes, they are familiar with it. They’ve seen it, smelled it, had it under their fingernails. A dying cow is not the same as a person nearing death, but living off the land strengthens one’s understanding that all living things eventually die.

Mass urbanization hasn’t been the only thing to alienate us from the circle of life. Rising affluence has allowed us to isolate senescence. Before nursing homes, assisted-living centers and in-home nurses, grandparents, their children and their grandchildren were often living under the same roof, where everyone’s struggles were plain to see. In 1850, 70 percent of white elderly adults lived with their children. By 1950, 21 percent of the overall population lived in multigenerational homes, and today that figure is only 16 percent. Sequestering our elderly keeps most of us from knowing what it’s like to grow old.

This physical and emotional distance becomes obvious as we make decisions that accompany life’s end. Suffering is like a fire: Those who sit closest feel the most heat; a picture of a fire gives off no warmth. That’s why it’s typically the son or daughter who has been physically closest to an elderly parent’s pain who is the most willing to let go. Sometimes an estranged family member is “flying in next week to get all this straightened out.” This is usually the person who knows the least about her struggling parent’s health; she’ll have problems bringing her white horse as carry-on luggage. This person may think she is being driven by compassion, but a good deal of what got her on the plane was the guilt and regret of living far away and having not done any of the heavy lifting in caring for her parent.

With unrealistic expectations of our ability to prolong life, with death as an unfamiliar and unnatural event, and without a realistic, tactile sense of how much a worn-out elderly patient is suffering, it’s easy for patients and families to keep insisting on more tests, more medications, more procedures.

Doing something often feels better than doing nothing. Inaction feeds the sense of guilt-ridden ineptness family members already feel as they ask themselves, “Why can’t I do more for this person I love so much?”

Opting to try all forms of medical treatment and procedures to assuage this guilt is also emotional life insurance: When their loved one does die, family members can tell themselves, “We did everything we could for Mom.” In my experience, this is a stronger inclination than the equally valid (and perhaps more honest) admission that “we sure put Dad through the wringer those last few months.”

At a certain stage of life, aggressive medical treatment can become sanctioned torture. When a case such as this comes along, nurses, physicians and therapists sometimes feel conflicted and immoral. We’ve committed ourselves to relieving suffering, not causing it. A retired nurse once wrote to me: “I am so glad I don’t have to hurt old people any more.”

When families talk about letting their loved ones die “naturally,” they often mean “in their sleep” — not from a treatable illness such as a stroke, cancer or an infection. Choosing to let a loved one pass away by not treating an illness feels too complicit; conversely, choosing treatment that will push a patient into further suffering somehow feels like taking care of him. While it’s easy to empathize with these family members’ wishes, what they don’t appreciate is that very few elderly patients are lucky enough to die in their sleep. Almost everyone dies of something.

Close friends of ours brought their father, who was battling dementia, home to live with them for his final, beautiful and arduous years. There they loved him completely, even as Alzheimer’s took its dark toll. They weren’t staring at a postcard of a fire; they had their eyebrows singed by the heat. When pneumonia finally came to get him, they were willing to let him go.


This original article by Dr. Craig Bowron appeared in The Washington Post on 02/17/2012

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Finding Meaning After Academe: It turns out you can no longer do what you love. Now what?

The “do what you love” mantra pervades academe, engendering seemingly rational people to forsake lucrative careers for the study of Mediterranean archaeology or, in my case, classical Tamil love poetry…

During my years in graduate school, that philosophy toward work was rarely challenged. On the contrary, in subtle and overt ways, my colleagues and professors reinforced the belief that it is more noble to pursue a love of literature, history, or science than to pursue financial stability. It was a seductive fantasy, especially since, for a time, my work—the teaching, the research, and the digging through archives in far-flung corners of the world—made me very happy.

The problem, however, is that for the vast majority of newly minted Ph.D.’s, it is now close to impossible to find financially viable academic work. Toward the end of my doctoral program, that grim economic reality eventually set in, forcing me to make difficult decisions about my future. I applied to hundreds of positions and went on dozens of interviews over the course of two years, only to find myself with no good options at the end of that grueling process. GraduatingMy choices came down to taking adjunct work or leaving the academy altogether. Reluctantly, I chose the latter: I filed my dissertation, started an internship at a public-relations agency, and put academe behind me.

In an essay in Jacobin magazine earlier this year, Miya Tokumitsu notes that the “do what you love” ideology embedded within academic culture makes Ph.D.’s prime targets for exploitation, most obviously as adjunct laborers. Undervaluing financial reward in favor of emotional satisfaction is one reason so many Ph.D’s are willing to perform high-skilled labor for so little pay. “Because academic research should be done out of pure love,” she argues, “the actual conditions of and compensation for this labor become afterthoughts, if they are considered at all.”

But sooner or later, the question of compensation becomes impossible to ignore.

When confronted with the instability and poverty that accompany adjunct employment, many Ph.D.’s are compelled to consider alternative careers, and a significant number will cross over into the nonacademic realm. According to recent studies from the American Historical Association and Modern Language Association, 24.2 percent of history Ph.D.’s and 21 percent of English and foreign-language Ph.D.’s have, over the last decade, pursued nonacademic careers.

In my experience, the transition out of academe can be painful. Apart from the stresses of job hunting, one of the most challenging parts of the process for me was confronting the possibility that I might no longer be one of the lucky people able to do what I love.

Over the last three years, I’ve discovered that this fear was unfounded. I now work at a public-relations agency where I help technology companies refine their corporate messages and get media attention. My job is creative, intellectually challenging, and allows me to use my strongest skills: writing, public speaking, idea generation. I have found that specialized knowledge and critical thinking are highly valued across industries, many of which are willing to pay high-skilled workers commensurately. Teaching skills are also important in the nonacademic workplace in such contexts as explaining complex research and mentoring junior staff members.

It is true that I do not feel the same obstinate devotion to my PR job that I once felt about academe, but perhaps that is a good thing: The fact that I am not wedded to my job means that my employer does not have the power to exploit me in ways that universities exploit their workers. Also, while people everywhere fuse their personal identity with their work, that tendency is much more pronounced inside of the academy than outside it. In my new life, I can leave my work at the office and pursue my other passions in my free time, an arrangement that gives my life more flexibility and balance.

It took me years—and several paradigm shifts—to arrive at the conclusion that it is possible for a former academic to have a meaningful career outside of academe. Here are a few things I wish I had known earlier in my journey.

Notions of time. One of my greatest fears about leaving academe was that I would no longer have control over my time. After years of making my own hours, the concept of being bound by a rigid, 9-to-5 corporate schedule unsettled me. What I did not realize is that the fixed boundaries that demarcate work time from leisure time serve an important function: They separate workers from their work.

Academe, on the other hand, is an all-encompassing lifestyle that involves teaching, writing recommendation letters, fieldwork, speaking at conferences, producing manuscripts, among many other things. Without external forces compartmentalizing their time, it is easy for academics to wrap up their whole lives in their work, which is why, as Tokumitsu points out in her essay, scholars tend to fuse their personal identity so intimately with their work output.

While there are many parts of my new career that I enjoy—working alongside supportive colleagues, learning new technical skills, developing creative media campaigns—there is also less pressure for my work to be my only source of happiness. On a daily basis, I have both success and failure on the job, but in either case, my response is tempered because my work is just one aspect of my life. It isn’t my whole life. On bad days, when a client is in a bad mood or when I feel the ideas I’m pitching are lackluster, it is liberating to be able to leave the office, get a cocktail, and pursue my other passions. That is worlds away from the utter devastation I would feel as an academic when, for example, I received unkind criticism about my research.

Public intellectuals can thrive outside of academe. Another revelation for me: Academe is not the only place to find vibrant intellectual engagement. As I was changing careers, I feared I would no longer be able to contribute to the discourse in my fields of South Asian studies and gender studies, thereby squandering the years I spent acquiring expertise in those areas.

What I’ve discovered is that there are many spaces where specialized content knowledge is valuable. The Internet has made it easy to participate in conversations about a vast range of subjects. Online publications are always keen for fresh, insightful content that Ph.D.’s are well positioned to contribute.

Today, rather than writing for academic journals, I write for mainstream magazines, newspapers, and blogs, while also working on a book project. As people have shown interest in my published work, they have occasionally invited me to give lectures at libraries, conferences, and even universities. So in many ways, there has been continuity between my former career and my current life. It is even possible that I am reaching a wider audience than I would have had I confined my research to academic journals.

That horrible first year. While I have now found my equilibrium in the nonacademic workplace, it took time. The first year was particularly brutal: I was wrestling with a sense of loss about leaving my research behind and struggling to make sense of my identity outside the university. Those negative emotions were aggravated by the fact that my first job outside academe was not particularly exciting. As an intern at a PR agency, I was surrounded by colleagues and even managers who were younger than me. The work itself was elementary, involving things like creating simple reports and scanning the news for press coverage about the clients.

Unfortunately, that kind of transitional work is necessary for Ph.D.’s who do not have the corporate skills to be immediately useful outside the academy and need to learn the basics of their new industry. What I did not realize is that after the first few months, Ph.D’s have the potential to ascend the corporate ladder quickly. The combination of an impressive academic pedigree and corporate experience can make us very competitive candidates as we move through the ranks.

Had I known how much better things would be once I turned that corner, I would probably not have considered quitting quite so many times in that horrible, no-good, very bad first year.

Finding new meaning in life. In a recent article in The New York Times,Gordon Marino makes the case that the “do what you love” ethos is naïve and inward-looking. Self-fulfillment, he argues, can come from doing work that you had not sought out to do, but that simply needed to be done. Indeed, “we can be as mistaken about our views on happiness as anything else.”

That was true for me. When you are thinking through what will make you fulfilled, you only have your own limited experiences on which to draw. It’s hard to know what might make you happy in unfamiliar realms. I pursued an academic career because I thought it would give my life meaning, but as I veer further and further away from the path I had initially set for myself, I have found that there are many rich sources of meaning in life. Over the last three years, I have stumbled upon fulfilling work that I never would have discovered had I not been nudged out of academe.

To the extent that my experience and Marino’s argument apply to others facing a similar, apparently bleak transition, the prescription is clear: Be open to alternative tracks, even if they are not what you had envisioned, and take the plunge. And maybe, like me, you won’t look back.


By Elizabeth Segran, a freelance writer who writes for The Atlantic, Foreign Affairs, and The Nation, among other publications. She is also a public-relations consultant at SHIFT Communications. She received her Ph.D. in South and Southeast Asian studies from the University of California at Berkeley. Her website is

(From, The Chronicle of Higher Education)

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