"It's impossible to work your way through college nowadays"...is the hard-to-swallow (but not entirely surprising) conclusion of Randal Olson's research into just how extreme national tuition costs have become in the US. As The Atlantic notes, the economic cards are stacked such that today’s average college student, without support from financial aid and family resources, would need to complete at least 48 hours of minimum-wage work a week to pay for his courses.
MSU calculates tuition by the "credit hour," the term for the number of hours spent in a classroom per week. By this metric, which is used at many U.S. colleges and universities, a course that's worth three credit hours is a course that meets for three hours each week during the semester. If the semester is 15 weeks long, that adds up to 45 total hours of a student's time. The Reddit user quantified the rising cost of tuition by cost per credit hour:
This is interesting. A credit hour in 1979 at MSU was 24.50, adjusted for inflation that is 79.23 in today dollars. One credit hour today costs 428.75.
In 1979, when the minimum wage was $2.90, a hard-working student with a minimum-wage job could earn enough in one day (8.44 hours) to pay for one academic credit hour. If a standard course load for one semester consisted of maybe 12 credit hours, the semester's tuition could be covered by just over two weeks of full-time minimum wage work—or a month of part-time work. A summer spent scooping ice cream or flipping burgers could pay for an MSU education.
The cost of an MSU credit hour has multiplied since 1979. So has the federal minimum wage.
But today, it takes 60 hours of minimum-wage work to pay off a single credit hour, which was priced at $428.75 for the fall semester.
Olson, who's doing his graduate work at MSU, crunched the numbers further to create this graph:
Furthermore, Olson adds,
the average student in 1979 could work 182 hours (a part-time summer job) to pay for a year's tuition. In 2013, it took 991 hours (a full-time job for half the year) to accomplish the same.
And this is only considering the cost of tuition, which is hardly an accurate representation of what students actually spend for college.
Is it any surprise that so many students today are suckered into taking out non-dischargeable loans, in growing chunks, to pay for their bachelor's degrees?
It's more important than ever to make sure that, if you're not working 40+ hours a week at a minimum-wage job while in college, you'll be able to get a better-paying job after graduation.