As students living in dorms have just finished paying their second quarter housing bills, many are watching their savings and checking account balances steadily deplete with a sense of uninhibited dismay. For me, forking over two grand definitely wasn’t easy, especially when in the back of my mind I was considering the huge opportunity costs of attending college, namely the approximately $80,000 in debt I could be earning over the course of these four years. But folks, it really does pay off … for most of us (I’ll address this part later.)
In the meantime, however, we college students will continue trying to keep our spirits up as we get through school, while remaining constantly vigilant for legal and foolproof get-rich-quick schemes. However, I recently stumbled upon a number of facts that only add to the unique feeling of uninhibited dismay that only a University of Wisconsin housing bill can bring on. Thus, I’m warning you all to read the following paragraphs at your own risk.
My drastically lower savings account balance lead to me to desperately apply for a job as a UW Telefund caller, a position in which students contact alumni and ask for contributions while refusing to take “no” for an answer. After I got the job, I did not receive the heightened peace of mind that I expected. Instead, upon reading the intro manual that was emailed to all new employees, I learned information that remains downright disturbing. For example, average student loan debt at all four-year UW campuses is more than five times what it was 30 years ago, rising from just under $5,000 in 1982 to $27,000 in 2011. Furthermore, working at minimum wage (which is currently $7.25 per hour), UW students would have to work about 50 hours a week for 50 weeks to make ends meet, which was an interesting tidbit to learn after just obtaining a job that only demands 10.5 hours of work from me each week.
If that isn’t distressing enough, let’s break it down further. By crunching some numbers, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel further found that, based on the basic academic costs at UW from 2012, students need to work 2,538 hours in one year (at minimum wage) to cover the total basic academic cost of $18,402 for the year. However, in 1978, in order for the collegiate baby-boomers to cover the basic academic costs of attendance, these students would need to slave away for a mere 891 hours a week (at a minimum wage of $2.65 an hour) to get the coveted sum of $2,362, the total cost. Fun fact: there are only 8,765.81 hours in a year.
Back in the day, a high school diploma was equivalent to a four-year college degree from an accredited university. In today’s world, we progeny are facing greater and greater societal demands regarding educational standards when the costs of such achievements are astronomical. As state support for public education continues to decrease, we are left with next-to-nothing, and, in many cases, less than nothing, as we go further and further in debt to meet the new standards necessary for decent employment (namely, multiple college degrees). But are college graduates actually reaching these standards? Now, it’s time to turn out attention back to the qualifier I mentioned in the second paragraph; unfortunately, as the Oct. 7 issue of TIME magazine tells us, higher education is becoming seemingly less demanding, as about half of employers surveyed for that article said they had trouble finding qualified graduates to hire.
So what does this mean for us? Well, considering that the path to obtaining a college degree is thorny and painful and may not necessarily pay off, it’s becoming more and more imperative that students use their collegiate time to prepare themselves for the real world. We just have to work relatively hard for at least four more years in order to obtain a career that we can look forward to day-in and day-out for the following 40 years.
Briana Reilly (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freshman intending to major in journalism and international studies.