No, You Can’t Work Your Way Through College Anymore

Originally published at BecauseFinanceIsBoring.com. Republished here with permission.

It’s a popular trope, especially among baby boomers, to lecture students to “just work your way through college! That’s what I did!” But it turns out, it’s nearly impossible to do that today.

Randy Olson, a PhD candidate in Michigan State University’s Computer Science program, crunched the numbers, and found that students today need to work five times more hours than students did three decades ago:

“The average university student in 1979 only had to work 182 hours per year (a part-time summer job) to pay for tuition, whereas the average 2013 student had to work 991 hours (a full-time job for half the year). That’s over 5x as many hours worked for the same education!”

Olson also provided a chart of the trend through 2010, which makes for a pretty stunning visualization of the rising cost of higher education:

But what about financial aid, you might ask? Well, as Olson notes, that’s lower, too:

“If the Federal aid trends in the past 30 years are any indication, students actually have less of their tuition costs paid for by financial aid nowadays than 30 years ago!”

If you want to work your way through school these days, the only way to do that seems to be to alternate between 6 months in a full-time job, and 6 months in school. Paying for school while simultaneously working a part-time job is pretty much impossible these days.