The Price of Engagement

One aspect of being a graduate student that I will truly miss are the discounted membership and registration rates for professional and academic associations. I have benefited tremendously from the affordable rates and have been able to present research and network with colleagues throughout the nation. While I understand the need for a higher membership and conference registration rate for non-graduate students for the financial health of the organization, the unspoken truth of needing to engage in several of these organizations can quickly become costly.

These prices are at their worst exclusionary to many and limiting to even more. For graduate students seeking tenure-track professorships, you are conditioned to engage in these organizations to network and present your work, and are highly encouraged to consider these spaces for leadership and service opportunities. But being an active member to more than one (including attending the conference) will costs upwards of a $1000 dollars.

What makes this problem worse for aspiring academics is when you read on social media that this financial burden does in fact hit many academics hard but it is a necessary investment, especially when considering tenure and promotion and the potential of needing letters from academics outside of your home institution.

Andrew MartinezAndrew Martinez

As a higher education scholar, I expect to be engaged in the Association of the Study in Higher Education (ASHE). However, it is also important that I consider being involved with the American Educational Research Association (AERA). Depending on the focus of my current research, I may also become involved with (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators) NASPA or the American College Personnel Association (ACPA).  If I were to be an active member for ASHE, AERA, and NASPA, that would cost me $505. If I attend each of their conferences (excluding travel and lodging costs), that would cost me about $945 if all registrations were purchased during an early-bird special.

I recognize that as a faculty member, I may have access to research funds, grant funding, or other sources of support as I was able to as a graduate student, but what if that is not an option?

I think the most upsetting part of this issue is that the high price of engagement is considered a necessary expense for your success as a scholar. There are more “invisible” costs to not engaging. Conferences serve as a way to keep yourself accountable to your research and writing. I often find that most of my manuscripts are polished because they have been accepted into a conference, thus there is a pressing deadline to meet to get them finished.

Can the associations create a more equitable paying structure? Perhaps their registration fees can range by professor rank. Given that people may register to hear someone speak, or to attend specific paper presentations, perhaps a discounted fee for those presenting will help. That type of incentive may even lead to more conference proposals, which can lead to more registration numbers.

I recognize the privilege of being in academia. If I do engage in these organizations and attend their conferences, I have the ability to travel all over the world to learn and connect with scholars in often beautifully built conference spaces. However, how about the many scholars that are just as deserving but don’t have the financial means to even consider these opportunities? More attention should be paid to making these spaces more affordable and welcoming, and less grandiose and exclusionary.

Andrew Martinez is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and research associate at the Rutger’s Center for Minority Serving Institutions. You can follow him on Twitter @Drewtle.