Chart: Number of Hours at Minimum Wage Needed to Cover Tuition

Chart: Number of Hours at Minimum Wage Needed to Cover Tuition

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An article by Jarrett Moreno at Attn: ran the above chart which shows how many hours of minimum wage a student must work in order to afford the average blended tuition of private and state colleges. The debate internal to that website got interesting. The author originally intended the piece to pressure legislative action toward an improved minimum wage but after lots of interaction with the online comments he penned another piece in which he acknowledged the bigger, truer problem to be that of tuition hikes.

Whatever the reason, it is true that today a student must work a full time job at minimum wage nearly year-round to afford the average tuition whereas previous generations could knock out school bills with a summer job alone. What to do about this fact? Do we write our congresspersons and hope they get around to raising minimum wage or imposing tuition freezes on our schools? Or do we indeed work full-time, year-round while maintaining a full class schedule?

Can they? Can we?

Before growing overly despondent let me point out again the flaw of averages. While the average student gets whacked on tuition if they work an average college job, average is a choice and it doesn’t have to apply to you. You have one of two factors, and/or a combination of both, to work with to put you in better standing. You have substantial control over both your income and your outgo. Flex either of these and your situation looks less bleak, sometimes considerably so.

Without going into all of the details we will explore in the upcoming book and blog posts, let’s address the focus of the chart: minimum wage. Nothing at all says your work hours need to entail making only minimum wage. You have substantial leverage and influence over how much you get paid for your work. Briefly, let’s note that:

  • Myriad factors determine how much one earns at a traditional J-O-B. Hygiene, networks, mobility, skills, and dependability tend to earn the attention of raise-minded bosses.
  • General self-employment is always a viable option and can put a student into the production economy where money isn’t tied to time.
  • Similarly, there’s much money to be scooped up on campus in dorm room enterprises.
  • Hours strategically dedicated to scholarship searches and applications can yield more than a job would.
  • Certain workers at colleges earn income plus often qualify for free or severely discounted tuition. If you do plan to work year-round and/or don’t mind slowing down the education process if it’s free then even a minimum wage job at the right place can yield an economic benefit far and above $7.25/hour.
  •  You always have the military option. Different type of job, vastly expanded ability to cover tuition thanks to the GI Bill, ROTC, etc.
  • Minimum wage jobs go to the unskilled. You can do what it takes, even if it means delaying college initially, to get the marketable skills that spell for a better summer or part-time income.
  • It often pays to work with your parents to rearrange your finances in such a way that you qualify for better financial aid packages.

So don’t grow despondent at this chart. It CAN be presented to show that we need to work unmanageable hours to afford college or that someone more powerful than we needs to help us out. Or it can prompt us to discard the idea of working for minimum wage altogether and instead get more creative in how we use our available hours to generate an income. I’m all for the latter. Let’s make it happen.