Why Duke's porn star is warning about student debt

5:21 AM, Mar 6, 2014   |    comments
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(CBSNews.com) - When it comes to the American ethos of bootstrapping yourself to success, there's apparently a double standard when that involves bondage straps.

Take the case of Belle Knox, the nom-de-porn of a Duke University freshman. The young woman has spurred both support and a backlash after her identity was outed by a fellow classmate. Unfortunately for the woman, who has hidden her real identity in the articles she's written and in interviews she's given, the disclosure has led to harassment, threats and outrage, as well as a fair measure of public support for her decision.

Yet hidden in the firestorm is a question about money and aspirations: With the spiraling cost of college, can students expect to graduate without significant debt? And how far should students go to graduate debt-free? One obstacle, as Knox points out, is that the typical student job pays rock-bottom wages, requiring hours of work that could be spent studying.

"I worked as a waitress as a job for a year in high school, and not only did it interfere with my school where I was barely sleeping and wasn't doing my work, but also I was making $400 a month after taxes," Knox told the Duke Chronicle last month. "I felt like I was being degraded and treated like s**t. My boss was horrible to me."

At Duke, Knox said she turned to porn to supplement her financial aid, given that her tuition bill mounted to more than $20,000 per semester, the publication noted.

Whatever the ethical considerations in doing porn to pay the bills, one thing's for sure -- it pays better than waitressing. In-demand actresses can earn $800 for a scene with two women, and $1,000 for a scene between a man and a woman, Business Insider noted in 2012.

By comparison, the average waiter or waitress earns a median wage of $8.92 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's about $357 per week, before taxes and assuming a 40-hour work week.

That type of pay would make it difficult to afford Duke's $60,000 tuition, which the university says is actually a discount. The university told National Public Radio that it invests $90,000 in the education of each student.

Meanwhile, student debt in the U.S. continues to rise, with more than 40 million Americans owing a total of $1.2 trillion in student-loan debt. For young adults graduating into a tough job market, it's definitely a bonus to enter your working life without the yoke of loan repayments.

"If Duke had given me the proper financial resources, I wouldn't have done porn. They have nobody to blame for the scandal but themselves," Knox told Playboy SFW.

Knox also criticized the country's massive student debt load, noting, "We also need to stop looking at loans as a solution to fix our education system, because they're crippling our economy."

There's evidence to back Knox's assertion. The country's outstanding student debt will lead to a total lifetime wealth drain of $4 trillion for indebted households, the research group Demos reported last year.

Most of the debate surrounding Knox hasn't been about her tuition, or how feasible a $60,000 per-year bill is for most American families. Instead, the focus has been on her porn career and sexuality. Knox, for her part, views the negative reaction as exposing the hypocrisy that women often face in work and life.

In an essay on xoJane, Knox wrote, "[I]f I've exposed the insanity and the unfair standards that all women and especially my sisters in the sex industry face -- if I've challenged the way that people view female sexuality -- then this journey has been worth it."

Still, asked by Playboy if more people should consider going into porn to for college, Knox laughed, "No. I'm not going to encourage anybody to do anything. Whether you want to take out loans, be a stripper, do porn or work multiple jobs, it's completely your choice."

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