In many states, minimum wage has increased and out-of-pocket expenses for attending public four-year colleges have declined over the last few years. Although these changes might make college more accessible for students, they still need to put in a lot of effort to complete a full-time course load.
If a student earns an average of $10.40 an hour, they would need to work 35 hours per semaine to pay the average cost at a four-year public school in their state. This doesn’t include any additional costs such as gas, car insurance, recreational activities, or unexpected expenses. They would also need to devote 30-45 hours per workweek to their full-time courses.
Inflation and wages affect the working student outcomes
According to the College Board data, the net cost of attendance, which includes tuition, fees, room and board, and personal expenses, has been decreasing for six years. It reached $19,250 for in-state students attending public four-year colleges in the 2022-2023 school season. This real decline has been attributed to inflation: The overall inflation rate has not increased as fast as the cost of higher education.
In addition to improving affordability, rising minimum wages in the states are also helping. In the last two years, 24 states increased their minimum wage. College students are more inclined to take low-wage jobs. Employers are likely to raise other wages to maintain a roughly equal ratio as workers in low-paying positions making more than the minimum wage increase.
However, not all locales are benefiting from these increases. Twenty states have minimum wages that are either lower than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour or none at all. To pay for attendance, a student would have to work 51 hours per week at that rate.
According to the Department of Education about 40% of undergraduates work while they are in college. However, it is unlikely that they will be paying for their entire education. Many students graduate with student loans debt. Working students will be unable to graduate debt-free. Full-time students typically take around 15 credit hours. This accounts for approximately 30-45 hours of learning each week in the classroom. Add 25-50 hours of work to the equation and you’ll have an unsustainable schedule that makes it difficult to learn, let alone get good grades.
According to data from The College Board, both institutional and state grant aid have increased in the same time as the net cost of college has fallen. Both are closely related. College grants lower the out-of pocket costs of higher education. A student’s financial need and merit can determine whether they are eligible for a grant. In 2020-2021, undergraduates borrowed $44.7 trillion in federal student loans.
Loans are often necessary for students to attend college. Students would be wise not to jeopardize their chance of getting a degree by working hard at a job that doesn’t have a significant impact on their bottom line.
These are some tips to help working students manage it all:
1. Establish a schedule that is sustainable. This applies to both your school and job. You can lose your chance of earning your degree if you work too many hours or take on too many credit hours.
2. Complete the Free Application for Student Aid. Every year, fill out the application as soon as you can. Financial aid is awarded first-come, first-served. Waiting until the last minute could result in less grant funds. Grants don’t need to be repaid. We like grants.
3. Every year, apply for scholarships. Applying for scholarships is not just for freshmen. This type of “free money,” should be a part of your college career. Keep an open mind and apply whenever you can.
4. Borrow federal loans first. Federal student loans are the best option if you plan to borrow money for school. After your FAFSA is processed, these will be included in your financial aid package. These loans are typically lower in interest and offer more repayment options that private student loans.
5. Ask for help. It can be stressful to go to college. If you have any questions or need assistance with your time or schedule, reach out to student counseling. You can be sure they want you to succeed and are familiar with your challenges.