Ahead of Higher Ed: Earning a degree off your own earnings near impossible
Twenty years ago, a grandfather pulled his grandson to his knee and told him a story beginning with, “Back in my day…” The anecdote most likely included “I had to walk to school” or “I paid 15 cents for a hamburger.” But now that reminiscent story can include, “Back in my day, I could work to fund my entire college education.” That is no longer the case.
Aside from the students blessed with generous, wealthy parents or a full scholarship, individuals are forced to fund their own education. They do so through financial aid, student loans or working. However, a compelling article in The Atlantic explored the fact that because of increasing tuition — even setting inflation aside — the modern student cannot solely fund their education based on their own earnings.
On average, in-state tuition at UH costs $300 per credit hour, depending on your college, and a 15-hour semester adds up to be just more than $4,500. For a two-semester school year, UH students are paying about $9,000 in tuition alone. With the minimum wage in Texas at $7.25, an employee working 20 hours, which is classified as part-time, will earn $7,540 in a year, not accounting for taxes. Based on these numbers, it would take you 41 hours of minimum-wage work to pay for one credit hour at UH. That translates to working 41 hours a week — during the 15-week semester — to completely fund your one semester, 15-hour course load’s tuition alone.
The Atlantic article recalls a time when this wasn’t the case — when a student could pay for his classes with one summer of work. Randy Olson, a graduate student at Michigan State University, crunched MSU’s numbers and came to this conclusion: “It’s impossible to work your way through college nowadays.”
UH was established in part by funding from philanthropist Hugh Roy Cullen, who had a condition with his funding.
“The University of Houston must always be a college for working men and women and their sons and daughters,” Cullen said. “If it were to be another rich man’s college, I wouldn’t be interested.”
Cullen’s mission has not been abandoned; about 26 percent of the 2013 student body were part-time students, most likely balancing employment.
And the University is not immune from rising tuition expenditures. Each new group of Cougars pays more than the last — something the University addressed when it approved a four-year fixed-tuition option students can use to cut some costs.
It has been an inevitable idea society has put on itself: Everyone needs to go to college, even if debt is the way to do it. But Olson argues there needs to be a balance of working, debt and making the most of the college experience you’re paying for.