Minimum Wage & College Tuition

I recently came across an article by Rich Exner for entitled, “Minimum wage job no longer can cover the typical college bill: Numbers Behind the News” where he compares the average cost of tuition for attending a public school in Ohio to minimum wage.

I believe this is a flawed analysis. Here’s why:

Rich is comparing the lowest bucket of wage earners – those earning the MINIMUM wage with the AVERAGE cost of tuition. You cannot compare two things in different cost brackets. The proper comparison would be that of minimum wage earners and the bottom quintile of tuition in Ohio, not the average.

I would argue a couple points here:

  1. College is an investment. You should not expect for the investment to pay out a 100% ROI in real-time. This is unrealistic. The investment should provide a return, but over several years, perhaps even a decade, depending on the level of the investment. Therefore, you should not expect to pay for college completely while you are in college. This is why we have (a) loans, enabling people to pay for college over time; (b) grants, making colleges more affordable; and (c) various types of colleges that run the gamut of being free all the way up to $75,000 a year. We also have college savings plans that enable families to save money in tax-advantageous manners.
  2. You should pick a college you can afford. If you cannot afford to pay tuition at Ohio Wesleyan ($47,784 for 2011-2012), you should attend a school you can afford (such as Columbus State Community College which will cost just a couple thousand dollars per year or about 95% less than OWU).
  3. I’m on the fence with regards to working while in school. If you are a full-time student, and can afford not to work, that’s your best route to ensure you have plenty of time to devote to your studies and your investment in education. If you are a part-time student and a working adult, then you need to carefully balance your course load with your work load (and family life) so that you don’t limit the benefits of your education. However, for the working adult, there will ultimately be some sacrifices. That might be watching football every Sunday or your favorite sitcoms on Thursday. It might be dropping a hobby for a while or eating out a little less. But you make that sacrifice as an investment.
In summary, if you are earning minimum wage and cannot obtain enough grants and scholarships, you may not want to attend the most expensive schools. Evaluate whether taking on a job or heavy loans is the right investment. However, if you make the right choices, you should be able to afford a community college, even if you are in the lowest wage earning category.
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