"It's Impossible To Work Your Way Through College Nowadays"

Tyler Durden's picture

"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.


To better measure the cost of tuition, Olson links to a Reddit discussion of cost per "credit hours" -

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.

As The Atlantic concludes...

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.

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maskone909's picture

Slavery with a smile

Pladizow's picture

So you  take one credit per semester - let them eat cake!

pods's picture

Are loans more prevalent because of high tuition, or is tuition so high due to easy loans.  

Hope the economic courses at least teach the term financialization.

Make student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy and see what happens to tuition.



wallstreetaposteriori's picture

Good point.. I think both sides could be argued, but I tend to agree with the latter.  Funny thing is... it was tough to work through school 15 years ago as well....  well maybe you could through state schools or community colleges, but those really don't count.


SafelyGraze's picture

"today’s average college student .. would need to complete at least 48 hours of minimum-wage work a week to pay for his courses."

fortunately, there are fewer and fewer minimum wage jobs, so this is not a big problem

btw .. the average college student is a she. not a he.



Tortfeasor's picture

If you are a college student, and you cannot find a way to make more than minimum wage, then college is not the right place for you. If you have nothing to offer the pre-graduation world, then you will have nothing to offer the post-graduation world. 

Number 156's picture

They need to factor in cost of living because not every college student has a couch in Mom and Dad's basement to sleep on.

Rent + food + travel + Medical etc etc?
Where I live, Mininum wage barely pays for the rent.  Even with the couch, youre screwed.



BustainMovealota's picture

Its called paying your dues.  Learning how to scrounge.  Its a lost art now days.  Buck up, know where you don't want to be, and make damn sure you do the right things in life to keep from going back to that time in your life.  Its called working hard and nobody, and I mean nobody, owes you jack shit!

"The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward."


Ballin D's picture

millenials are paying their fathers' dues in addition to their own right now. Interest is a bitch.

laboratorymike's picture

In that sense, I got pretty lucky as my campus minister rented out a converted greenhouse for $140 a month. The AC didn't work (the breakers would blow after 10 minutes), but in Atlanta you could not find crime-free rent like that anywhere. Otherwise, all of your minimum wage would be eaten up in rent and food, and you would be biking everywhere.

Monty Burns's picture

<i>btw .. the average college student is a she. not a he.</i>


Majoring in Gender Studies for career in the HR thought police.

graspAU's picture

Add the money from a 2nd game of monopoly to your current game. Do the prices go up? :)

Pool Shark's picture



Unless you work your way through college as a doctor or lawyer...



maskone909's picture

Im an RN. If we missed more than 3 clinical days we were kicked out of our program. That is, three days in two years. Good luck negotiating that with an employer! All though i did work 18 months of the program. I fucking lived off top ramen

pods's picture

Have kids and you will get to know all the different types of ramens.


maskone909's picture

Shes 4 months pregnant thanks for the heads up but i think that will be banned in this house ;-)

pods's picture

Get back with me after you price diapers, car seats, etc.



Zombie_Economics's picture

My wife was able to do it and yes, she still worked 10-12 12 hour shifts per month, too.  She is now an ARNP and owes not one red commie cent to these educational loan pricks.  No help from family, no help from anyone.  Yes, we also have a son.  It was a team effort in the sense that I picked up slack where possible, but I still contend she pulled almost all of it off on her own.  This is one tough lady with a determination I've never seen in anyone before.  So, I guess I'm just one lucky son-of-a-bitch to have her.

maskone909's picture

Hey it takes two. I saw many relationships deteriorate in "the program". U guys should be proud. I wish i had help from family ect but hey we made it cheers

pursueliberty's picture

I saw a few deteriorate myself.  I have a ADN, still took four years, lacked 24 hours upon graduation, but the BSN program wasn't available until after graduation.

My total four years of education and 13x hours was less than $30k including books(01-05).  I earned that within my first five months working a little OT and two night weekend shifts a month.  Not many with a degree can say that.  I met a girl wiht a BSN and $60k in student debt from a big name university in FL.  We earned same pay, I just kept a lot more of mine.

I only worked in the field nine months.  I see it becoming over saturated presently.  I'm in middle TN now and have never seen so many NP, like it is mind boggling.  I went on a date with one not long ago and she said the wages were being supressed because there are so many now.

FredFlintstone's picture

Churning out nurses like nobody's business. Blowing bubbles is what the good ole USA is about these days. The scam now id making all of these 2 year RN's go back and get their BSNs in these RN to BSN programs you do over the internet.

pursueliberty's picture

It really is a scam unless you want to become a NP/CRNA/educator.


Where I worked out of college you didn't get a pay increase for a BSN.  In my hometown where I did most of my clinicals they paid $.50 extra per hour for a BSN.  The numbers for a lot wouldn't add up on a 2000 hour work year if you only wanted to have a BSN.  I lack 24 hours because my first two years of college I was a finance major, so I have all the BS redundant prereqs out of the way.  Even with that in mind, last I looked I be in almost $10k with books for a BSN.  So, in ten years I'd break even, shitty ROI to me.

Agent P's picture

or a stripper....God bless 'em

tempo's picture

Parents don't cosign, they will take your SS and your house!! More women on food stamps than working so equal pay for equal work BS is a joke.

mc225's picture

30 years ago in washington state, a quarter with 15+ credits (15 credits being a 'normal, full load') at community college was ~$190 + books. if memory serves, the universities were ~$400 per quarter + books.

what is it, 10x that now? back in the day, the state was paying 90% of tuition. seems like the state has been unwinding its support over the years. 

out-of-state students used to pay roughly 10x more because they were not supported by the state.

anyway, college has always (at least as long as i've been around) been at least partially bunk. it has always had superfluous courses - anthropology, psychology, sociology, etc. - which some committee somewhere had decided would be part of a 'balanced curriculum'. community college in particular could have done without all of these extras, and simply added in more core classes (career training) in their place.

be that as it may, it was fairly cost-effective to get a bachelor's by going 2 years in community college, and finishing out at 'the u'.

i don't know what these kids are doing today.

Rainman's picture

Getting up and shoveling barrels and barrels of horseshit every damn day.

RacerX's picture

That's because a college degree has more value these days.

and yes that was /sarc.

Kirk2NCC1701's picture

A high-priced hooker can do it without even getting out of bed.

And an awesome car salesman can sell 1-2 cars on a Sat.

Sometimes, how you see the problem IS the problem.

p.s. Not everyone deserves to or should get an "elite" education -- or what used to be an elite education.

pods's picture

"I don't usually talk to Duke students, but when I do, I ask them if they need towels."


youngman's picture

Just get on the football or basketball team..then its all covered..and you get to play games

Alcoholic Native American's picture

I worked as a cashier at a carwash my first 2 years going to college, after college, I am working at as a cashier at a liquor store.

Moving on up, luckily I make well below the poverty line so they can't dock my pay for student loans!

Retards on SSI make more money than me.  Someone shoot me in the head.

foodstampbarry's picture

Maybe you should get into porn. Your pic shows you have an eye for talent.

pods's picture

Nah, that is the degrading nasty ass Fernando Valley porn.  


At least the internet is taking down the porn power brokers, maybe Hollywood will be next:

"The pornography industry began to decline by mid 2000, due, for the most part, to the growing amount of free content on the Internet which undercut consumers' willingness to pay. In 2007, industry insiders estimated that revenue for most adult production and distribution companies had declined 30% to 50% and the number of new films made had fallen sharply."




indmotor's picture

Stop waiting for someone to hire You and start Your own business! Start with Your own store and when You see a better oportunity, hire someone and start another project.

laboratorymike's picture

I did this about a year ago. Being able to run out and do a deal when you need an extra $300-500 is nice, and now I'm about to move that up an order of magnitude per deal.

The PhD, if nothing else, gave me a lot of contacts for what I am doing now. I'm also working with friends such that we all are starting businesses in semi-related areas, so when any one of us needs the other's talent, the business stays in the network. Even when we are not in an SHTF scenario, it's good to have friends band together.

Oh regional Indian's picture

The biggest lie sold : We are all equal

Slightly less egregious, but impactful: A college Degree makes you more equal than others

Oink Oink!

And I say this as a rather degreed person.


Spungo's picture

The dude'll sometimes pay you an extra $50 if you take it in the ass

The_Ungrateful_Yid's picture

50 is too much bro, I'd pay no more than 20.00

CHX's picture

BUT, they say we need more inflation. Students did not get the memo, apparently.

libertus's picture

It is only impossible to work your way through school if you go the traditional route. Oplerno.com just got approved by the State of Vermont to offer courses for credit. They are also working on becoming a degree granting institution. The business model is solid and costs $500 to $1500 per class. That is a whole lot cheaper and better than the alternative. 

LawsofPhysics's picture

Maybe, but...



War is peace

Freedom is slavery

Ignorance is strength


Knowledge is power.

Remember knowledge is not wisdom, so seek both.  If you really can't pay back your student loans, change your identity.  They can't take back the knowledge or wisdom... 

I love it when people say "you can't default on your student loans".

What they mean is you shouldn't default on your student loans.

That which cannot be paid back, won't be, period.


indmotor's picture

college is nothing but an indoctrination. The longer u stay in school the less intellegent u become! Period!

LawsofPhysics's picture

Bullshit.  Big difference between intelligent and productive.  Whatever happened to all the trade schools anyway?  Some of the most productive and intelligent people I have known went to trade schools.

pods's picture

When I think as to where I obtained most of my knowledge it most certainly was from people with working man's PhDs.


Miss Expectations's picture

...and then you fail your prospective employeer's credit check.

Caveman93's picture

If I could actually find a way to get my FICO back to Zero, I would. That would fuck with them pretty hard.

Rainman's picture

 patience grsshoppa .... on a long enough timeline it will most assuredly dial back to zero..