When many students first leave for college, their parents sit them down and say that their singular focus over the next four years should be college — iterating something along the lines of “college is your job.” Without the burden of having to financially will themselves through college, these students are able to take internships and load their schedule full of extracurriculars — something that is next to impossible otherwise. Those who are able to master the art of collegiate juggling pull off the seemingly impossible, but that doesn’t mean they should have to.
A recent study published by Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce has found that the demographics of workers in college are changing. Some 1 in 4 college students are also working full-time jobs on top of their school schedules, and between 70 and 80 percent of all college students are working in some capacity.
Many of our parents were able to put themselves through four years simply by working a summer job. But that’s absolutely non-existent at this point. For many students, working full-time at the minimum wage wouldn’t be enough to afford tuition, housing and general cost of living.
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The prices of college have risen exorbitantly, for the benefit of student loan services, and at the expense of everyone else. In a CNBC study, tuition prices have risen over 200 percent in the past 30 years. This would be fine if the minimum wage had followed suit, but that’s simply not the case. The Economic Policy Institute, a non-partisan and non-profit think tank, has published that, if wages kept up with productivity, then minimum wage would be more than $18 dollars per hour, far more than double what Wisconsin’s is, and more than even New York City.
This all, compounded with a vast growth in wealth inequality, has created a world where working while attending college is an enormous reality for many.
The University of Wisconsin System addresses this bleak reality in their administrative policies, stating “The university, acting in the best interest of the students, continues to identify jobs within the university environment that can be performed by a part-time student employee.”
Of course, the caveat within this is the classification and emphasis on “performed by a part-time student employee.” While it’s a good sign the Wisconsin System as a whole recognizes many students need to work during college, it naively ignores the full realities of those quarter of students who are working full time.
Moreover, while not set into law in any way by the university, professors at large still occupy the mindset that their courses reign supreme over other courses, and more importantly over jobs. My mind immediately takes me to my friends taking science courses, and who need to fulfill their lab obligations or field work, who, if also burdened by the responsibility of putting themselves through college are now forced to throw another ball into their juggling routine.
Similarly, it’s not just the STEM majors — every student, even if you’re taking “easy courses” and whether you’re full time or part time, struggles with the stress of classes. Having to work, or work full time just complicates that equation even more.
While the university is taking steps in order to help out students find part-time jobs, it still doesn’t solve the core root of the problem. College prices are skyrocketing, and for many, the only way to attend school is with loans or to work full time.
Regardless of political affiliation or ideological belief, this is a flawed system. Students shouldn’t have to stretch their own well-being and time thin by juggling classes and full-time work. And to keep sounding alarms, there’s no clear indication that this trend is going to dissipate or cease anytime soon.
We as a society need to take steps and actively try to figure out how to make universities a place where students are molded by the experiences of their classes, not molded into a fight and struggle to simply survive and pay bills and tuition.
Adam Ramer ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in political science and history.