Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The cost of college

How much work might be needed to work your way through college?

According to one observer, in 1964, all of the expenses associated with a public university education, including food, clothing, and housing could be had by working a minimum-wage job an average of twenty-two hours a week throughout the year. (This might mean working fifteen hours a week while studying and forty hours a week during summers.) Today, the same expenses from a low-wage job require fifty-five hours a week fifty-two weeks a year.

At a private university, those figures in 1964 were thirty-six minimum-wage hours a week, which was relatively manageable for a married couple or a family of modest means and would have been possible even for a single person working the lowest possible wage for twenty hours a week during the school year and some overtime on vacations. Today, it would cost 136 hours per week for fifty-two weeks a year to "work your way through" at a private university. In 2006, each year of private education amounted to the annual after-tax earnings of nearly four lowest-wage workers working overtime.

Marc Bousquet, How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation (New York University Press, 2008), 152.
Bousquet goes on to note that faculty salaries are not the cause of rising tuition:
The plain fact is that many college administrations are on fixed-capital spending sprees with dollars squeezed from cheap faculty and student labor: over the past thirty years, the price of student and faculty labor has been driven downward massively at exactly the same time that costs have soared.
[Bousquet is relying on a spreadsheet by Tom Mortenson, "I Worked My Way through College. You Should, Too. 1964–65 to 2002–03," available to subscribers only at Postsecondary Education Opportunity.]

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