Most of us have heard that college has become more expensive, or that college loan debt now exceeds $1.2T dollars, but still see college as the ticket to middle-class security.
To some extent we have forgotten how much easier it used to be.
Less than a generation ago, I entered a non-selective state university from a childhood of poverty and graduated debt-free 3.5 years later into a strong job market where my entry level salary was immediately more than 3X the poverty level for a family of 4. A recent diary about college debt made me wonder about just how much this opportunity has changed. I wondered, how many hours working at the minimum wage would it take to pay for a 4 yr degree from a public university?
Look below the fold for more:
Back in 1978, when I was born, the College Board shows that the average in-state tuition and fees at a 4 yr public university were just $2446 in today's (well in 2013) dollars. At the time, the minimum wage was $2.30, which in 2013 dollars is $8.22. Thus tuition and fees, on average, would run you a little less than 300 hours. You could pay for school by working summers and concentrate on academics during the year, with no loan or scholarship. Going away to live in the dorms? Room and Board raised the ante to about 930 hours. Add a 15 hour a week job to your schoolwork and your summer job.
Now let's look at today: Average in-state tuition and fees at a public 4-year school is $8893. With room and board the College Board estimates $18,391/yr cost. Minimum wage is just $7.25 an hour. It takes more hours of work (~1227) just to pay tuition than it did to pay room, board and tuition in the Carter years. It takes ~2537hrs, more than a year-round, full time job, to pay room, board, and tuition in the average state.
It required fewer hours of labor to pay the costs of attending the average private university in 1978 than it does to go to a state school today.
Think we can't afford to do better? Why?
Penny-wise, pound-foolish government isn't actually saving us money in the long-run, but it's certainly making our students poorer, and probably making them poorer students as well.
If we want educated workers, citizens, and taxpayers, why are we charging for a public education at all? If we want students to contribute financially via work-study, why is minimum wage at the level of 1950?
12:48 PM PT: The article explains some of the history of changes in funding for public post-secondary education.
1:32 PM PT: A bit more info:
Total spending per student at 4 year public colleges has actually been static for the past 25 years after inflation adjustment. The big change for that part of the time period has been in state support. Here is an interactive presentation which has data for over 600 4-year public schools with state, federal, and net tuition percentage of revenues for each year for each institution or state from 1987 to 2012.
Check out your state or alma mater: