The following map was included in an article by Libby Nelson, published by Vox. The map originally appeared in an article by Sandhya Kambhampati and Meredith Myers in the Chronicle of Higher Education. It shows how long it would take a student working half-time at a minimum wage job to earn enough to cover one year’s worth of tuition and fees at the average public university.
In two states, the student would have to work eight to ten years to pay the tuition and fees for four years. In thirteen states, the student would have to work six to eight years. And in twenty-six states, the student would have to work four to six years to do so.
In 2014, the tuition and fees at public universities averaged $9,139 for in-state students. But room and board at public universities averaged $9,804. So, to cover room and board in addition to tuition and fees, in two states the student would have to work full-time at a minimum wage job for sixteen to twenty years. In thirteen states, the student would have to work twelve to sixteen years, And in twenty-six states, the student would have to work eight to twelve years.
And those calculations do not include the average cost for books and supplies, which in 2014 was $1,146 at public universities. Or the cost of other expenses such as transportation, clothing, medicine, etc.—never mind pocket money.
Even if some students managed to get jobs at which they earn more than the minimum wage, most will not earn substantially more than the minimum wage precisely because they have no credentials beyond a high school diploma.
So, for many students, the choice is either to accumulate large amounts of debt or to try to pay as they go, turning the college experience into a very ironic form of something approaching lifetime learning.
If one ignores the bromides and other fanciful notions and focuses, instead, on the actual numbers, it should be very clear why the student debt issue is not going to be resolved without some significant increase in federal and/or state support for public higher education. And that is especially true if we are really serious about significantly increasing the numbers of people holding associates and baccalaureate degrees.
Libby Nelson’s article is available at: http://www.vox.com/2015/8/28/9220705/college-working-map.
The article by Sandhya Kambhampati and Meredith Myers is available at: http://chronicle.com/article/Minimum-Wage-Work-Alone/232675/.
The data on tuition and fees and on room and board costs are taken from the College Data website, which is available at: http://www.collegedata.com/cs/content/content_payarticle_tmpl.jhtml?articleId=10064.