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College Tuition vs Minimum Wage

Lifestyle & Opinion

By Madeleine Latimer

Students are told from a young age that having an education is their God given right. So why is college so expensive? How do students pay for their college? Some have full-time jobs, some take out loans, some have parents that contribute, etc. Some students are expected to find there own way to pay for their college, and although they work full time, they still come out with heaps of student loans. Thirty years ago, students didn’t have to come out of college with a degree and loans, they just had a degree in hand and started their lives debt free. Does the increase in college tuition and expense preclude a minimum wage worker from pursuing a higher education? There are 3 ways to possible help change this so that students can get a degree; Lower college tuition, free college, or higher minimum wage.

]It’s hard for college student to have a job that pays more than minimum wage, unless they’ve been working since they were 13. “Forty-one percent [of students] rely on financial aid while sixteen percent [of students] said scholarships get them through college. Another twenty-two percent [of students] said their parents cover the bill.” (5) Using statistics from Jillian Berman and Jay Zehngebot, since 1987 the price of an undergraduate degree has risen 161%, or $63,973. According to the United States Department of Labor and the National Center for Education Statistics, to pay for their entire college tuition at minimum wage in 1970 you would have to work a little under 300 hours. And to pay for their entire college tuition at minimum wage in 2010 they would have to work about 1,000 hours. At some point, students are going to stop going to college all together because the cost is too high. Tuition is not the only thing that students need to excel in college. Students need textbooks, a healthy diet, internet, a place to call home, a laptop, time to study, and sometimes a car depending on where their school is located. Those costs add up extremely fast.

]One of the ideas that would help students want to go to college, or would at least reduce their stress and loans when they leave, would be to lower college tuition. Lots of students end up attending community colleges versus universities because of the costs. A community college is where you pay for classes by the credit hour, and a university is where you pay a tuition just to be enrolled in the school, but textbooks, room and board, etc. aren’t included in that tuition. “Higher tuition costs are surely driving students away, as reflected in a recent report that the total number of applicants to all British universities has fallen by 7.7 percent, largely due to tuition increases there.”(6) If prices do not decrease soon, students may stop attending universities all together and stick to community colleges. It looks like the beginnings of that have started happening around the world.

Another idea that would help keep students in college would be free college. Bernie Sanders, one of the 2016 presidential candidates proposed making college free. That was why so many younger people wanted Bernie Sanders to become president. They are tired of paying so much for college. Free college sounds like a fantastic idea, right? Well, in all actuality, free college was happening in the United Kingdom up until 1998, and according to Allison Schrager, it was easy to have free college when only 1%-2% of the population were attending college, and now over 30% of the population are. “Free tuition turned out to hurt poorer students more…While tuition is free, living expenses are not covered. Free tuition resulted in lower grants for housing and students had to rely more on loans. Richer students, especially those who lived at home, got a huge subsidy. Poorer students, who needed to move closer to school, ended up with more debt.”(7) It sounds like a good idea, but in all reality, it’s not for some students.

The last idea that could help with the university costs would be raising minimum wage. Although it sounds like a better option than the other two, “raising the minimum wage would have sweeping effects on the economy. Proponents on the left say it will ease our worsening income inequality and stimulate consumer spending.” (8) The truth of the matter is, if we raise out minimum wage, the price of everything else will go up too.

Overall, all these ideas seem like the right thing on the surface, but once you look into them, they don’t seem like the right ideas to choose. They’ll hurt the economy no matter which one we choose. Maybe we suck it up, or maybe we find a better way to fix the college tuition vs. minimum wage argument. College tuition and expense does seem to hinder a minimum wage worker from pursuing a higher education, is there even a way to fix that?


  • National Center for Education Statistics. (2012, July). Average undergraduate tuition and fees and room and board rates charged for full-time students in degree-granting institutions, by level and control of institution: 1969-70 through 2011-12. Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d12/tables/dt12_381.asp
  • United States Department of Labor. (2009). Wage and Hour Division. Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://www.dol.gov/whd/minwage/chart.htm
  • Schoofs, G. (2014, September 4). These Charts Show How Much College A Minimum Wage Job Paid For, Then And Now. Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://www.buzzfeed.com/gregschoofs/how-much-college-did-your-summer-job-pay-for?utm_term=.rv0zEgagME#.fmZloGbGEo
  • Berman, J., & Zehngebot, J. (2017, November 21). Paying for your college, 30 years ago vs. today. Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://www.marketwatch.com/graphics/college-debt-now-and-then/
  • Kingkade, T. (2017, October 07). Most College Students Work Part-Time Jobs, But Few Pay Their Way Through School: Poll. Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/07/college-students-jobs_n_3720688.html
  • Campo, C., Dr. (2012, September 25). Why We Need to Reduce College Tuition. Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-carlos-campo/reduce-college-tuition_b_1913576.html
  • Schrager, A. (2015, October 16). This is what would happen if college tuition became free in America. Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://qz.com/523236/this-is-what-would-happen-if-college-tuition-became-free-in-america/
  • Toon, J. (2014, May 15). What Will Happen to the Economy If We Raise the Minimum Wage? Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://news.vice.com/article/what-will-happen-to-the-economy-if-we-raise-the-minimum-wage

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