The crushing cost of college on today’s students

With yesterday’s budget announcement by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton we begin the months of haggling over the state’s budget for the next two years.

Regardless of your opinion on the budget, one thing I have encountered in my return teaching this semester is the sheer weight of financial burden on my public community college students.

Even at an institution like ours, where you once got a two-year degree or technical training with almost no debt, students must now borrow and work constantly to afford the one thing proven to free people from poverty and hardship: a college education.

And when I say “work,” I don’t mean 10 hours a week at the library. Students are working full time to afford to live and attend school, and their schooling is suffering as a result. Add to this the complications of raising a family or paying for a mortgage, and the math gets harder.

Please go below the jump to see this full graphic by the Frugal Dad blog. I do believe this is an accurate view of what students face. Simply not going to college should not be considered a solution. It is a disqualifying frame of reference in our current economy. So, this debate should continue with the following information in mind.

See the graphic:

College Isn't Cheap


  1. This post provided extensive visual images with words like “graduates” “degree” and “cheap,” but I imagine, perhaps incorrectly, that those words mean different things to different people?

    The title of your post is about “college,” which I rather adore, but if we want to get deeper, the political discussion these days, (and I am probably incorrect in many ways) might more be over training vs. education? Do you think “college” should be “job training” or do you think it should be “education”? Do you think folks with an M.A. who are serving espresso drinks in Duluth should be instead finding ways to ship coal out of a new industrially lively port? Careful! Robert might be listening!

  2. Great question! We talk about this stuff all the time at work (for those who don’t know: I teach at a community and technical college). The private sector is telling us to focus on training: the skills the workforce needs to succeed in the modern economy. New workers lack soft skills and critical thinking ability. So we are supposed to work on that. The “academy” would argue, and rightly, that college is not just about your future job, however. It’s about cultivating a system of lifelong learning and exploration that leads to innovation, discovery and creativity. I’d argue that both are important, but that we’re doing a poor job of explaining that difference to future students. Since college is pretty much understood to be necessary for financial security at this point, a lot of students know they “have” to go, but don’t know which experience they’re signing up for.

    My personal argument is for better integration with the E-12 system. H.S. grads are not up to snuff in many key areas anyway, and that would help, but also students who genuinely want to work in industry, getting that coal on the ships, should be respected and indeed taught that there is honor in doing so. Students with the aptitude to pursue a rigorous liberal arts track should be challenged much more than they are now, so that their critical thinking and drive are cultivated better than we’ve been doing.

  3. Aaron, I agree with what I think that you are saying: that all work should be honored, whether technical, skilled, intellectual, management skills, etc. There is too much of a divide in many people’s minds, which leads to a great difference in salary for certain “unskilled” vs skilled work. Yes, some unskilled work takes only 10 minutes of instruction, but other “unskilled” work is very important and must be done correctly. Think, for example, of what would happen to hospitals if the cleaning people didn’t do the jobs correctly? Work done well needs to be honored.

    But I also believe that there is value in true education, education beyond training for specific jobs. Education leads to greater awareness of the world outside of our small circles and, hopefully, to better critical thinking skills, although sometimes I wonder if that can truly be taught. Teachers try, at least. It is the job of public schools and higher education institutions to provide, even insist on, classes outside the already-given knowledge base of the students. There will be students arriving at college who have knowledge and skills beyond what some of the teachers already have, but in other areas. I believe people benefit from broadening their contacts.

    Lastly, the costs. The costs are really high these days compared to what an unskilled 19 year old can earn in the extra hours left in a year. But the other side of that is that, in general, the least expensive schools also have the fewest available scholarships and grants. The community colleges need to look at other ways to finance schooling. And, given that many community college students live at home with their parents, those kids are not benefiting from the “education” that inherently comes with living away and mixing with all sorts of other people. What is that worth, education-wise, in the long run? For me, it was worth a lot. (I lived at home for a semester, then went away to school.)

    Perhaps 8th and 9th graders need to be made more aware of the scholarships and grants available to students who do really well in school. That is one source of funding that benefited my children immensely.

    Then there is the matter of “other costs.” I think that there should be better education in high school to prepare students for the real world costs of, for example, putting mundane items on a credit card that charges 22%. Also, we all “need” cell phones, internet, net-flix, take put pizzas,(right???) in addition to real necessities. Students who don’t have a clue can rack up humongous debt with these things. How do we teach our younger students how to get what is really needed for less cost?

    I see my young adult married children struggling with some of these cost post college. I’m glad that they have figured out that they can turn off some services and not miss them. $32,000/year for a teacher with a master’s degree, wife and child, doesn’t go very far, when out of that money you still have to pay for your own benefits.

  4. Just remember, you were born bare-assed naked into this world, alone, and will leave the same way. No one owes you anything. You owe no one. If you do to others as you’d have them do to you while you’re here you’ll blossom.

    Believing “somebody owes you something” is a sin equal to pride and will destroy your spirit and diminish the full potential of your God given gifts.

  5. Great post Aaron. Nice graphic. I believe the graphic highlights a chasm that exists more on the Range and similar areas versus other places where millenials are clustering.

    There seems to be a larger portion of the population on the Range that do not recognize this sort of graphic as normal. Service sector employment is the new normal. My opinion is that the Range has a perception of success that doesn’t fit with many other areas. There is a social divide between mining employment and other employment.

    The pursuit of learning, creativity, and wisdom is becoming a new currency among social circles in places that differ from the Range. There would be value for the Range to recognize such facts. My belief is that many leave the Range because they can’t compete with their parents or grandparents definition of success. There are two Ranges. One for miners. One for non-miners.

    It is difficult for people to afford car payments, insurance, and gas on top of student loans without mining employment. Many people are trading car payments for student loans and using transit. There is also a focus on personal and community wellness that the Range has forgotten.

    I agree with R47 on this one. I simply see it is as many on the Range that feel they are owed something, while many others on the Range humbly work at Super One, Holiday, or Lucky Seven.

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