The Cost of Education

Working Harder for Smarter

My father worked full-time to put himself through college and it took him 8 years to graduate. He worked at various places most teen and twenty-somethings would work: Baskin-Robbins and the local grocery store to afford tuition and living expenses. My dad didn’t play collegiate sports or participate in club programs. He spent his time studying, working, and unwinding with his friends.

When I went to college, I played 3 years of club-varsity Lacrosse and paid my own dues. I worked part-time and was a full-time student; that was about all I could manage. I worked hard, made great friends, and graduated with a GPA that I was damn proud of.

I can’t stop thinking about how I wouldn’t have been able to afford my education without the help of my family. Certainly I wouldn’t be where I’m at today without my alma mater, the life-changing experiences I had, and the network connections I was able to establish throughout.

What made me so lucky to afford a great private education? Nothing — I was just very, very fortunate. White privilege, I believe is what they call it. I was able to earn a college degree at a great institution because of the financial support of my extended family.

I wasn’t born into wealth — I grew up in government subsidized housing. We were on welfare for some time. Also, I was, by all definitions of the word, a “loser.” I was destructive, disrespectful, inconsiderate, and foolish beyond most normal adolescents. I built tree-houses out of branches and dental floss; played with hatchets (I have the metal plate securing my bones and scar to prove it); hitched rides onto moving freight trains; built dirt bicycle ramps with shovels; and broke quite a few laws (not an admission of guilt). If I wasn’t privileged, I certainly would have ended up a statistic like the rest because I was forging my own path to nowhere, and I was moving fast. Most of the people I grew up with ended up in jail for robberies and drug possession.

My education was something I never had want for. Shouldn’t that be the case for everyone? Don’t mistake my fortune with an inability to work hard. I’ve lived the American Bootstrap story, except I’m honest about the support I’ve received and I know that I didn’t do it on my own. Since the age of 15, I’ve maintained employment in some way with part-time work, contractual employment, internships, and full-time jobs. I know what it means to work by the sweat of my brow, the blood from my hands, and the ache of my back even now as I work at my tailored-suit job at a medical marketing agency in Los Angeles. I know the meaning of hard work, self-reliance, and perseverance. But I also know where I came from and how I got here.

I know I couldn’t have done it alone. Yet, so many people have to. I want them to be able to receive a quality education too. Shouldn’t the American Dream of hard work equaling success be a reality?

“If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.” — George Manbiot

For most people, this isn’t the case. Let’s investigate what the cost of an education is in relation to minimum wage.

Cost of Private Education — 1970 vs. 2005

Average tuition, room and board for private institutions in 1970 was $2,738/yr ($7.5/day), compared to 2005 was $26,889/yr ($73.66/day).

Minimum wage in 1970 was $1.60/hr ($9.28/hr in 2012 dollars) and in 2005 was $5.15/hr ($6.10/hr in 2012 dollars)

That means that a full-time employee (earning $3,328/year in 1970 and $10,072/year in 2005) in 1970 only needed to work 1,711.25 hours compared to 5,221.16 hours in 2005 to earn enough money for tuition.

Working full-time (8 hours/day, 5 days/week) you spend 2,080 hours working each year (there are roughly 8,760 hours in a year). Right away we can see that someone in 1970 could afford a private education working even less than full-time. In 2005 you’d have to work 20 hours/day, 5 days/week (or 14 Hr/day, 7 days/week) in order to afford your private education. This isn’t even taking into account the amount of time for class and school work.

In 1970, you’d go to school for 8 hours, work 8 hours, and have 8 hours for free-time/sleep/homework which is entirely doable. In 2005, you’d need to have a time-stopping watch because you’d have to work full-time for 7 days/week with 8 hours of class; leaving you with 2 hours for free-time/homework/sleep.

Cost of Public Education — 1970 vs. 2005

In 1970, public education cost $1,287/year compared to $10,454/year in 2005. Working full-time, you’d have to be earning $.60/Hr in 1970 and $5.05/Hr in 2005.

This means that it is PLAUSIBLE to put yourself through public university in 2005 working full-time. However, this leaves you with only $4/day for anything additional that you might need for school or life. If you have a car for your job, insurance, have to pay for gas, and need to maintain your car you can see how that $4/day becomes nothing before you need to pick up more hours to offset your cost of living. Bottom line: working full-time at a minimum wage job doesn’t allow someone to earn a public education based on federal minimum wage and national tuition averages.

In order for public schools to be affordable and realistic to attend, either minimum wage needs a large hike or tuition costs need to go down. Many people don’t agree with increasing minimum wage, which is a whole issue in itself so maybe we should discuss improving the cost of public education. It’s not even worth discussing private institutions because it’s just not feasible for someone to put themselves through a private university without taking on massive student loan debt while working full-time at the federal minimum wage.

From purely an educational standpoint, we need to be doing better. We can be doing better. We should be doing better. For the sake of equalizing the opportunity at higher education, it only makes sense that one of two things needs to happen: an increase in the federal minimum wage or a reduction in public universities.

Oh, and for me to have put myself through my university, I would have needed to work a minimum of 13 hour days earning $7.25/Hr. That would have left me with 3–5 hours for school-work and sleep after class.

Maybe if you just worked a little harder you could do what privileged people have done…


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