Why It's Impossible For Today's College Students To Work Their Way Through School

As reported in a recent article in The Atlantic, up until the early 1990s it was possible for U.S. college students to work their way through school.  But a graph by Randal Olson, a computer science graduate student at Michigan State University, shows that it has become far more difficult--if not impossible--for Millennials to pay for school without support from financial aid and family resources.

Using tuition data from the National Center for Education Statistics and minimum wage data from the U.S. Department of Labor, Olson calculated and graphed the number of hours worked on minimum wage needed to pay for 1 year of public university tuition in the U.S. from 1987 to 2010.  He then fitted a linear regression to the data.

The data show that whereas the average University student only had to work a part-time summer job to pay for tuition in the early 1980s, today's student has to work over 900 hours (a full-time job for half the year).  That amounts to 23.7 extra hours every year to pay for tuition.

For simplicity's sake, Olson focused exclusively on tuition and fees, and left out other expenses, such as room and board, books, etc.  As he notes, "given the widespread reports that wages aren't keeping pace with inflation, this plot would only look even more dismal if I factored those costs in as well."  Nor does he include financial aid, arguing that "if the Federal aid trends in the past 30 years are any indication, students actually have less of their tuition costs paid for by financial aid nowadays than 30 years ago."

Read more:

TeachingwithData.org resources:
Economics of Education (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/2916)

Frederique Laubepin

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