Stressed Out: The Struggle to Pay for Higher Education while Working

Tuition, room and board, and books, oh my! While many university students struggle to find a balance between a social life, sleep, and academia, there is another culprit seizing their free time — and I am not talking about procrastination. Increasing rates of tuition are causing more students to have to work while juggling their course load. The financial burden and withstanding the demands of college life has mental and physical health costs for students. In 2016, Americans are more burdened by student loan debt than ever.

Once upon a time people were able to pay for college with the money they made from their summer jobs. Current college students suffer the consequences of the decrease in public funding for higher education, which is contributing to tuition increases.

According to Rutgers University Admissions, more than 80 percent of students at Rutgers receive some form of financial aid, which includes scholarships, grants, loans and work study. The largest federal grant program available to undergraduate students is the Pell Grant program. In order to qualify for Pell Grants, students must meet the standards for financial need. Tuition and fees are rising at a faster rate than the financial aid and family income needed to cover costs.

Tuition and fees for Rutgers University’s undergraduate students in New Brunswick will increase 1.7 percent, or about $241 this fall. The average undergraduate from New Jersey on the New Brunswick campus will see a total bill of $26,632, or $447 more than last year for room and board. While the tuition hike is lower than many public universities, students should not remain content and should hold the Board of Governors accountable of making sure costs are affordable to people from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds.

Too often I hear my peers at Rutgers say they cannot afford to miss work because they are sick or overwhelmed with their obligations. Being busy is continuously being glorified, and people should not wear it like a badge of honor. Students should not have to compromise their sanity in order to be financially stable. The myth of working your way through college is no longer viable, and some students are paying the ultimate price: burn out.

As a student who relies on being a Resident Assistant to pay for room and board, I endure a lot of stress from the job; enforcing policies at residence halls, having weekly duty, and coordinating programs. While I am glad to have this opportunity, the position requires a lot of time and sometimes affects my ability to complete assignments. The financial burden of paying for university contributes to why I need this job. This is an unfortunate reality for too many students at universities across the country.

If student’s personal experiences are not alarming enough, these statistics are sure to grab your attention. There are currently 44.2 million Americans with $1.26 trillion in total student loan debt. (If you want a more in depth look into scary student loan debt statistics, check out this website.)

Antoinette Gingerelli is one of many students at Rutgers who balances being a full time student with other obligations. While juggling 20 credits and an unpaid internship, Gingerelli also is a Resident Assistant and a Student Coordinator at RU Voting. “Working two jobs to help my mother make ends meet and being a full time student among other responsibilities takes a toll on me. I’ve let other things go such as sacrificing social life. Not being able to see my friends and not sleeping due to my jobs affected my mental health last semester,” Gingerelli said.

Students often have to work longer hours at more demanding jobs to cover their financial expenses. This can not only interfere with academic performance, but contributes to hindering the college experience because many college students are spreading themselves too thin. Creating an institutional culture that promotes the success of working students will require a campus wide effort that involves the faculty and administration. Universities must work to holistically invest in university students and acknowledge them as more than students who just attend higher education to pursue a degree. Because the reality is, more and more students are working while tackling a full course load. If we not only want students to thrive in academia, but also higher education to be more accessible to the general public, the cost of tuition cannot continue to rise at the current rate.

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