With the recent outbreak of frivolous talk concerning free tuition and minimum wage increases, I want to talk about the other options from the viewpoint of someone smack dab in the middle of the madness.
Based off of my own university’s average tuition, room and board and total cost of activity fees, as well as the minimum wage of my home state, 3,865 is the number of hours one would have to work, while earning minimum wage, in order to cover the cost of one year of attendance at my university.
Of course, this neglects to take into account the fact that few, if any, students, traditional and nontraditional alike, pass through the admissions office doors without receiving some form of grant or scholarship. This number also represents pre-tax figures, but, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll pretend that is not a problem that needs to be addressed at this moment.
If your mind works at all like mine, you’re probably already trying to do the math paired with the implications of a number like that. Well, you can put down your calculator, because I have already taken the liberty of factoring the figures. In order to reach that number of hours in one year, an individual would be looking at working 322 12-hour days per year. That is six days a week, all year long (with the exception of 10 weeks), when the individual would be working all seven days.
As I mentioned before, this is all assuming that a student would be paying the full tuition price, which is a rarity for a private university such as the one these figures are based on. However, it's not uncommon for financial assistance to be limited when it comes to students pursuing degrees at public universities. The total cost of education for state-funded schools can be expected to be roughly half that of a private university. Returning to my figures, then, in order to work enough hours to cover the cost of education, one would be facing six-hour days again, six days a weeks, with the exception of those 10 full weeks. That is the equivalent of 36 42-hour work weeks, with the entire gross pay every week going to the student’s education.
At this point, to expect for any student to follow this kind of work schedule in order to cover only their schooling expense is unheard of.
However, I don’t want any person misinterpreting the message of my argument. The fact of the matter is, minimum wage is merely a government-regulated number set to protect the menial labor workforce. When did the American Dream become "do the least we can in order to receive the minimum wages that Uncle Sam says we are entitled to?" Any student, such as myself, working through school for the purpose of graduating debt-free, should strive to be employable at rates higher than the set minimum wage. One aspect of fiscal responsibility is the ability to showcase one’s own skills in order to stand out above the menial labor force.
The idea of 3,865 hours does not stand in the way of my goals. For all those who have ever said that it is “impossible” to graduate without student loans, I am here to prove you wrong.