"Impossible To Avoid Student Debt," MSU Researcher Says

By: Brian Johnson Email
By: Brian Johnson Email

"It's really impossible to work your way through college and graduate without debt nowadays," said Randy Olson, an MSU graduate research assistant, getting his PhD in computer science.

That's the conclusion he made after crunching the numbers. His most recent project-- studying the cost of tuition-- started after a conversation with his grandfather. He wanted to know, 'why can't college students work their way through school and graduate without debt anymore?'

"It simply isn't possible to work all of this debt off, all these costs off, so you have no choice but to put it on student loan debt and pay it off afterwards," said Olson.

Olson looked at the cost of tuition compared to the number of hours a student would have to work making minimum wage in order to pay for school. He found in 1979, it cost about 203 hours of work to pay for a single year of tuition-- that's a summer job. Now, at minimum wage, a student has to work more than 1,400 hours -- that's more than a full year working part time, and that's not counting inflation.

"[That's] not including food, rent, gas and all these other things that you have when you are living out on your own in college-- these are costs that you accrue," said Olson. You can read two blog posts he's written explaining his findings at the links above.

Besides the current minimum wage, he said state funding cuts are to blame. Many states have cut higher education cut close to 50 percent. During the past 20 years, Michigan went from funding 75 percent of higher education down to about only about 25 percent.

Senator Shuitmaker said medicaid and the corrections budget have grown out of control-- eating the funding to higher education.

"This year's budget does represent a significant investment on behalf of the state to help out those struggling families," said Senator Tonya Schuitmaker, a Republican from Lawton that Chairs the Higher Education Appropriations subcommittee. "I understand their plight. I'm a mother of a college graduate and I think that under this year's budget-- while we don't restore all of the cuts to higher education, we certainly are making a great stride in terms of helping those struggling families out."

Higher education funding is set to get a 6 percent increase under the proposed state budgets this year. It's a fraction of the money lost after 20 years of cuts.

"The purpose of going to college is to go there to study and gain all these extra skills, and if you're not doing it to the best of your ability, it defeats the purpose," said Olson.

He said students from low income families with the most need for college funding, actually get the least amount of money. Those in higher income brackets get more funding because they're more likely to apply for and receive merit based scholarships.

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