SALT LAKE CITY — It’s impossible to work through college and pay tuition as you go, at least according to one Ph.D. student in Michigan
Computer science doctoral student Randy Olson is currently in his third year at Michigan State University. Olson recently ran an analysis on the cost of college tuition and determined the average college attendee must work six times longer to pay off tuition than students 30 years ago.
He found through looking at the statistics for college students around the country, most attending college are working for minimum wage.
Olson also compared data from the 1970s and compared it to current numbers regarding how much a student would have to work while in school to keep up with tuition costs.
“The 1979 student would have to work about 10 weeks at a part-time job (203 hours) — basically, they could pay for tuition just by working part-time over the summer,” Olson said in a recent blog post. “In contrast, the 2013 student would have to work for 35½ weeks (1,420 hours) — over half the year — at a full-time job to pay for the same number of credit hours. If you’ve ever attended college full-time, you know that this is basically impossible.”
There are many factors that contribute to rising costs in tuition, Olson said, but recent cuts in federal and state funding have taken the largest toll on students.
“A large factor in rising tuition costs, at least in the past decade, have been deep cuts in state funding for higher education,” Olson said. “Between 2008 and 2013, all but two states in the U.S. cut funding for higher education, some by as much as 50%.”
This deficit in state college funding has led to tuition hikes around the country, Olson said.
While paying for college tuition out of pocket might not be as feasible as it was in the past, Olson said there are a few ways students and prospective students can offset the cost and avoid going into mounds of student debt.
“One option is to be frugal,” Olson said. “Go to a local community college, which costs much less than four-year universities, or the first two years of your degree, then transfer to a 4-year university for the last 2 to 3 years of your degree.”
He cautions students considering this option to make sure all credits from a junior college will transfer to a large university. Military service can also be a good option for those looking to graduate debt-free, Olson said.
“You can join an ROTC program at a college of your choice and they'll pay your way through college while training you to become a military officer,” Olson said, “then you join a branch of the military as a commissioned officer.”
Paying for a postgraduate degree has been easier for Olson, he said, because of incentives and stipends he’s received along the way.
“In my personal experience as a doctoral student,” he said, “my financial situation has been much more tenable than during undergrad. When you're a Ph.D. student, you receive a livable stipend and a tuition waiver as long as you're a research or teaching assistant.”