TIME Education

‘Duke Porn Star': I Lost My Financial Aid

Bowie State v Duke
Duke University Lance King—Getty Images

Instead of focusing on my decision to perform in porn to pay my tuition, let’s start paying attention to what got me here: artificially inflated demand for college that pushes tuitions sky high

This year, even after student aid, I faced a $47,000 bill to attend Duke University. My turn to porn to close the gap was so famous, in part, due to my reasoning. Faced with either a degree from a less prestigious school or decades of crushing debt, a few hours of work on a porn set revealed itself to be the best way to avoid getting screwed.

To make matters worse, my income now makes me ineligible for the $13,000 in aid I was receiving. My bill for next year will be a staggering $62,000. And I will pay this all on my own; the financial aid office does not care that I am legally financially independent. They view it as my parent’s responsibility to foot the bill.

But my porn work pays the exorbitant tab for one simple reason: Demand for porn actresses, especially extremely young ones like myself, far exceeds supply. How interesting that the same basic principle explains why my tuition bill is so high in the first place.

Demand for education, kind of like demand for porn, is pretty inelastic. Kids like me have been told our whole lives that higher education is the only way to be successful in America. President Obama made it clear he wants to keep that demand high in a speech in Austin, Texas.

“I want us to produce 8 million more college graduates by 2020, because America has to have the highest share of graduates compared to every other nation,” Obama said. Toward that end, he increased the amount and number of Pell Grants.

Further boosting demand for a college, a moribund economy has made delayed entry into the workforce attractive and competition for jobs fierce. For years, lawmakers have worked toward the clear goal of making sure every American kid enrolls in college. Pell Grants aren’t the only method. Guaranteed loans have ensured every kid, regardless of credit score, parental income, or likely ability to repay, can borrow money to go to school. The federal government has for decades effectively subsidized college education through grants and loans, with predictable effects.

Colleges today have zero incentive to lower tuition or make college more affordable. Either way, demand is high and the money will keep flowing. So why bother with thrift?

Sheldon Richman, vice president of the Future of Freedom Foundation and author of Separating School: Liberating America’s Families agrees:

What drives the inflation of tuitions are the various forms of government financing. This is basic economics. If the government stimulates demand through grants and loans, other things equal, prices (tuitions) will rise. It’s supply and demand. It is unsurprising that much of the money goes to administrative bloat. That’s how bureaucracies usually behave.

I’ve experienced firsthand the kind of bloat Richman describes. NPR published an article days after my story went public about colleges on average hiring more bureaucrats than teachers. It detailed how my tuition goes toward new football stadiums, building luxury dorms, new dining halls, and rock-climbing walls — and don’t forget visits from Snooki and music artists.

Officials at my school responded that $60,000 is a bargain — they actually spend $90,000 a year on each student. Let’s break that $90,000 down. Building and maintaining physical infrastructure on campus gets $8,000. Another $14,000 goes to pay a share of administrative and academic support salaries, which in Duke’s case includes more than $1 million in total compensation to the university president, Richard Brodhead, and more than $500,000 to the provost, Peter Lange, according to 2011 tax filings. Also, $14,000 goes to dorms, food, and health services; $7,000 goes to staff salaries for deans and faculty; and miscellaneous costs take up another $5,000.

And on March 1st, the trustees of Duke raised tuition from $44,020 this year to $45,800 for the 2014-2015 academic year.

I have considered dropping out of Duke. I have sacrificed more than my squeaky clean reputation to finance my education. Flying to shoots during breaks means I rarely see my family. And, of course, my choice to finance through porn has meant intense ridicule and harassment.

I cannot tell you how difficult it is to hear my wealthy friends talk about all of the exciting summer plans in Greece or London they have, while I know I’m going to be working. I’m in that middle-class bind where many students find themselves. My parents make too much on paper to qualify for sufficient aid, but not enough to afford $47,000 a year. Alas, the plight of a middle-class student.

I’m hardly the only student who’s struggling with these sky-high bills. Experts predict a massive student loan default on the horizon, on par with the last major mortgage crisis. And, like the mortgage crisis, it’s likely the banks and lenders will be bailed out, while the students will be saddled with wage garnishments and ruined credit.

Government must stop the flow of money to schools in order to get tuition rates under control again. That means being honest about the fact that not every child should go to college. Only 59% of full-time, first-time undergraduate students who began their pursuit of a bachelor’s degree at a 4-year degree-granting institution graduate in four years. That also means making students who can’t afford tuition out of pocket find funding in the private market, where lenders are too judicious to lend someone $150,000 to get a BA in underwater basketweaving.

Richman again:

The solution is a complete separation of school and state at all levels. Competition drives down prices and improves products and services, as entrepreneurs strive to win customers by offering a better deal in terms of quality and cost. Government cannot help because the law of unintended consequences cannot be repealed.

Everyone is focused on my decision to perform in porn to pay my tuition. Let’s start paying attention to what got me here. Sky-high tuition bills result from a culture, from our President on down, telling every kid to go to college, regardless of their future plans or ability to graduate. And they result from schools being all-too-happy to raise prices to catch all the money flowing from the federal spigot.

Miriam Weeks, also known as Belle Knox, is an adult film star and a rising sophomore at Duke University.

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