The bygone era of our parents’ higher-educational endeavors is over, but unforgotten. Today, the idea that someone working 40-hour weeks throughout college can both pay their tuition and comfortably live on their remaining income is unrealistic. More than that, it’s a highly damaging lie perpetuating the insurmountable debt crisis for college students in America.
Going to college is often posed as a necessity if we students mean to do anything worthwhile with our lives, and is supposedly the rightful passage to a financially secure future. Although working throughout college is a widely accepted and traditionalist norm, its admirability undermines the dedication it requires. Juggling academia, work and social relationships, students don’t have the time to be working 40-hour weeks during the semester without it effectually interfering with their studies or exhausting them.
Additionally, the idea is simply more applicable to a previous generation. In the past, it hasn’t been unusual to hear of parents saving money toward their children’s college funds, yet more recently, rising tuition costs have caused parents to be less inclined to do so. Parents have a more realistic perspective regarding the current tuition costs plaguing our generation, which are far from the amounts they paid for their college ventures. In 1982, students paid an average tuition of roughly $1,140 a year to attend a public, four-year institution. With room and board, that number could reach around $3,400. Almost 40 years later, the average tuition for that same education has reached over $10,000, and including room and board, the total fees can extend past $26,000.
These prices reflect a more than 200-percent increase in the average price of tuition, while dually obscuring the fact that tuition is just one aspect of the financial burden imposed by colleges. The cumulative cost of books, general transportation, miscellaneous living expenses, groceries or ready-made meal plans, along with required health insurance and petty costs hidden within our bills are all further exacerbated by on-campus residence. It’s no wonder why our generation faces record amounts of student debt, as student loans currently make up the largest category of non-housing debt in America. Unfortunately, this is only part of the problem that society and the higher educational system have rigged against us. We’re past the age where working part-time throughout college is sufficient enough to cover all the fees attached to the experience, let alone live comfortably. As a college education becomes more crucial for economic opportunity than ever before, despite its rising costs to attend, the institutional system requires a restructuring in its entirety to make it not only more accessible to all, but more realistic.
To put it plainly, the minimum wage is simply not enough to survive on, especially for college students, who are often in desperate need of unabridged financial dependability and faced with a continuously building number of bills. If you choose not to live in available housing on the college campus itself, finding local housing becomes your best option. Paying rent on a minimum wage salary is no easy feat, as the affordable housing crisis has reached a critical level. Today, minimum wage will be unable to cover the rent of a one-bedroom apartment almost anywhere in America, and nowhere in the country can it cover the rent of a two-bedroom. Merely increasing the modern minimum wage isn’t a straightforward fix because it increases the competition between individuals vying for the same employment opportunities. This is especially difficult as the competition for the limited number of minimum wage jobs can be rampant within college towns, and even more so on campuses themselves.
Federal Work-Study (FWS) programs provide part-time employment opportunities for students, although they do not lower the actual price students pay toward school. However, FWS programs are comprehensively underfunded and have yet to keep up with changing times and newfound economic necessities of students. Besides their inadequacy to cover the costs of college tuition in 2019, the whole system of federal monetary allocation prioritizes long-established private schools. As a result, public four-year institutions and community colleges that actually cater to those from low-income backgrounds get less funding per student than private universities. A high-income student at a private four-year college becomes more likely to qualify for work-study than those already struggling financially, effectively missing the mark in providing employment opportunities to those needing it most. As dismal as these potential occupations and earning possibilities currently stand, they may soon become even worse, as their funding is being threatened under President Donald Trump’s proposed education budget. Further damaging an already flawed system, it would cut work-study funding in half and end crucial loan forgiveness initiatives.
Faced with off-campus renting hardships, towering tuition fees and insufficient minimum wages, universities and the government must understand the current financial burdens on students and do more. A congressional fix rewriting the rules on how universities receive funding could challenge the contemporary status quo and increase the likelihood of low-income students receiving FWS. Moreover, the Higher Education Act, a comprehensive bill regulating just about everything related to the college experience and its exhaustive expenses, has yet to be updated since 2008. It’s clear the plethora of financial acquisition problems plaguing college students can’t be confronted by merely balancing employment and school. The whole institutional framework has to be refashioned at its core to make college a reasonable investment without incredible indebtedness. At the very least, we must all recognize how impractical the traditionalist normalcy of “putting yourself through school” has become.
Miranda Jackson-Nudelman is a junior majoring in political science.