Friday, August 14, 2015

Jobs just don't pay to cover college costs

The cost of college has traveled the fast track to unaffordable in recent years. There was a time when students worked in the summer to help defray some of the costs. But even that has become less and less of a reality in today's world.

It's getting harder for students to afford college.
With more and more adults filling low-wage jobs, there just aren't as many opening for those looking for seasonal employment. A recent Pew Center study found that while summer jobs bottomed out for teens during the height of the Great Recession at 29.6 percent, it has barely grown since, only reaching 31.3 percent last summer. That's down from a high of 58 percent in 1978.

The report notes there are many possible reasons for the decline, including fewer available jobs, more students taking unpaid internships and/or enrolled in school during the summer as well. But it's clear that even for those who do work, the dollars earned aren't covering their need.

Back in 1981-82, for example, the average full cost to attend college was $2,870. That included tuition, fees and room and board. To earn that making the-then $3.35 minimum wage required them to work about 857 hours a year, which was certainly possible, especially if the student worked a bit during the year as well.

But those numbers have become basically impossible for a student today, even if he or she qualifies for a Pell Grant, as NPR found:
In 2014-2015, the school year just ended, the total of tuition, fees and room and board for in-state students at four-year public universities was $18,943. The maximum Pell Grant didn't keep pace with that: It was $5,730. That left our hypothetical student on the hook for $13,313. 
A student would now have to work 35 hours a week, every week of the year, to get by. To cover today's costs with a low-skilled, minimum wage summer job? Over 90 days, a student would need to work 20.24 hours a day.
Why work if the numbers don't work? Or maybe, why go to school at all? That's the decision millions post-secondary aged people are now weighing. The college payment model is simply not working. That's why you are starting to see some 2016 presidential candidates start to address it.

To fill 21st century jobs, workers need the skills employers seek. For many, those can be attained by attending college and earning a degree that prepares them for the working world. But there needs to be ways for students to cover those costs. More jobs is part of it. But Congress also needs to do more to ensure student loan rates remain low so students can better afford their schooling.