A good friend of mine recently linked on Facebook to a chart from Stomp Out Student Loans illustrating how many hours per day a student would have to work to pay for tuition at Yale while making minimum wage, both in 1970 and 2014. I know he means well, but this is a stupid, stupid chart.
Here’s the SOSL original:
I created a “rebuttal chart” to balance it out:
The SOSL chart is trying to illustrate that working your way through college is literally a thing of the past. But it seeks to do so by presenting a laughably skewed view of the issue. The idea of paying for one of the most expensive schools in the country while making the lowest possible hourly wage is just idiotic. Anyone with common sense should recognize how ridiculous the idea is without an infographic. Fortunately, reality is not so limited!
Yes, college prices have outpaced inflation and wage growth over the last 45 years. So have housing prices, car prices, and the cost of a gallon of milk. But that doesn’t mean that the ONLY way you can go to school is with student loans!
- SAVE! Simply put, parents can start saving for college early. Teenagers can start working in the years leading up to college. Yes, saving money can be hard.
- PICK AN AFFORDABLE SCHOOL: If funds and incomes are limited when the time comes, choose a state school (in YOUR state) or community college and/or live at home.
- MAKE MORE: Don’t accept that minimum wage is the only option for a working student. Students can start businesses doing laundry, babysitting, mowing lawns, or providing moving services for other students and local residents. All of these pay WAY more than minimum wage. Heck, they could work at a restaurant or even deliver pizzas and make more than that in tips!
- APPLY, APPLY, APPLY! Don’t forget about scholarships! Beyond academic and athletic, tens of thousands of dollars of scholarships from private businesses, non-profits and community groups go unclaimed each year. A prospective student can make exponentially more than minimum wage spending the summer before college (and breaks between semesters) filling out applications and writing essays.
- MISCELLANEOUS: Work-study programs, working for an employer who pays for college in exchange for a work agreement, ROTC, or even enlisting in the military are all valid ways to pay for college without debt. They aren’t all easy, and they limit your choices somewhat, but they get the job done and WITHOUT debt.
- WAIT: If all else fails, take a semester or two off and build up money and keep applying for scholarships. You might start a business that lets you save more than you thought, and it will surely look better on future job applications than fresh graduates with no work experience!
The common element here is planning ahead and being real. If your parents didn’t save money and you haven’t been working or getting scholarships, you probably aren’t going to Yale and frankly don’t deserve to. It’d be like going to a car dealership with $1,000 and expecting them to give you a $50,000 Mercedes because you’re a nice person.
But the good news is: Yale isn’t necessary! There are fantastic state and community colleges that cost a fraction of Ivy League schools. The degrees from these schools are just as legitimate and just as valuable in the marketplace for most employers and career fields.
Keeping it REALLY Real: Far more often than not, students are taking student loans – not to get a quality education – but to pay for an expensive and/or out-of-state school their friends (or boyfriend/girlfriend) went to, or to live in a dorm, or to buy a car, or to not have to work and have more time for “extra-curriculars”. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things inherently, but if you can’t afford them, don’t kid yourself about what you’re really borrowing for.
The SOSL chart ends with the line; “Share if college shouldn’t be a debt sentence in America…” It’s a very clever line, and one I agree with in spirit, but they don’t seem to be presenting solutions, other than looking for the government to wave a wand and remove everyone’s debts. But besides that not being how the real world works, if you’re content to sit in the waiting room of governmental inaction to fix things for you, I hope you brought LOTS of reading material. For nothing else but expediency, you’re better off taking matters into your own hands.
Rich or poor, everyone CAN work their way through school without the burden of debt. It’s all a matter of making the choice to find a better way.