Aja Frost

“I’m not saying we should all turn to porn to pay our student bills. But instead of lambasting Week’s morality, we should focus on spiraling tuition costs and student loans.”

Aja Frost

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If you go to Duke University, you might know 18-year-old Miriam Weeks, a women’s studies major who plans on being a women’s rights or civil rights lawyer. And if you watch porn, you might know Belle Knox, a petite brunette porn star.

If you watch the news, you might know Weeks and Knox are one and the same.

Weeks, whose title has become “the Duke porn star,” has sparked intense national debates about her decision to turn to adult films to pay her tuition. Both her critics and her fans, however, have focused on the morality of her choice rather than examining the facts behind it.

The facts: Duke costs more than $50,000 a year to attend. Weeks’ parents were unable to continue contributing to her bills. She had three choices: accumulate staggering student debt, work at a minimum-wage job (and accumulate slightly less staggering student debt while trying to balance work, academics and a life) or find a third option.

Unfortunately, Weeks’s situation is not unique — climbing tuition rates mean the lower- and middle-class are increasingly unable to pay for higher education. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, after-inflation tuition prices increased 297 percent from 1990 to 2012. Meanwhile, income has stagnated: if it had increased proportionally to tuition, then the median would currently hover around $77,000. Instead, it’s $33,000. A study by the New American Foundation examined 479 private colleges and found that 89 percent of those were charging families who made less than $30,000 per year an average of $10,000 in annual tuition. Put another way, those degrees cost students a third of their family’s income.

Cal Poly’s cost of attendance, though much lower than that of Duke, is still a significant financial burden. The university’s website estimates the annual price tag to be around $24,300 for an undergraduate living on or off campus. About 54.5 percent of students received financial aid in 2011-12, but that number includes those with loans and work-study jobs.

Even if you get an on-campus job and work the maximum number of 20 hours a week at $9.50 an hour, that’s only $190 a week. How much can you make from porn? Up to $1,000 per scene.

Obviously, most students are choosing loans over the sex industry. According to Time Magazine, total student debt in America had reached $1.08 trillion by 2013. The impacts of this debt are far-reaching, stymieing graduates’ ability to buy houses and cars, put away savings, feel financially secure and make important life decisions like getting married or having children. Postponing these actions, which are inherently tied to spending money, is a huge drag on American consumption. As a result, the whole economy suffers. So even if you graduate debt-free, you’re taking a hit.

When examined under this light, Weeks’s decision to spend her free time making adult movies and not waitressing starts to look much more reasonable and — dare I say it? — responsible.

I’m not saying we should all turn to porn to pay our student bills. But instead of lambasting Week’s morality, we should focus on spiraling tuition costs and student loans. It may be a less titillating conversation, but it’s definitely a more important one.

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