Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Unaffordable College Education

There has been a lot of talk recently about how a college education is now "unaffordable".  Students are forced to take out tens (and sometimes hundreds) of thousands of dollars in loans just to get a degree that no longer guarantees them a job upon graduation.  And to expect them to repay that?  Well that just isn't "fair".

I haven't priced out college lately, so I did a little research last night and found that the University of Wisconsin-Madison charges $4,835.52 per semester tution for a student taking 12 to 18 credits (the average class load).  Add onto that $8,024 for housing and food plan and you get an annual cost of $17,694.64.  And that doesn't include books and lab fees.  Multiply that by the five years it takes the average student to graduate and you get $88,473.20.  Indeed, a very expensive investment.  And this is actually way low--because no self-respecting upper-classman would stay in the dorms, so you can add another 30% to the cost of room and board for the last three years to live off-campus.

But being a bargain shopper, I explored some of the lower-cost alternatives.  The state has dozens of two-year UW campuses spread out throughout the state--most within an hour's drive of nearly all residents.  Students attending UW Fox Valley in Menasha for instance, pay $2,387.45 for the same credit load as those kids at UW Madison--and the courses count the same toward your degree.  And since those students can stay at home with Mom and Dad--their two year cost for college would be $9,549.80.

Anyone within driving range of UW Fox--or UW Fond du Lac--could probably handle the daily commute to UW Oshkosh to earn their Bachelors degree as well--while continuing to live with Mom and Dad.  The 12-18 credit tuition per semester at UWO is $3,500.62--meaning three years of classes there will set you back $21,003.72.  Add that to the UW Fox bill and you come up with a Bachelors degree for $30,553.52. 

While that still sounds like alot of money (and it is in one lump sum)--consider the student who works 25-hours a week at a part-time job making minimum wage of $7.25 an hour will earn $47,125 (before taxes) over that same five year period.  More than enough to cover the tuition, books and gas for the daily commute five days a week.

The difference between the scenarios above is a savings of $57,919.68.  I'll grant you, the SuperSaver option doesn't include fall Saturdays at Camp Randall Stadium, kegger parties, the Mifflin Street Block Party or Spring Breaks in Cancun and Panama City--you know the "College Experience" that is so important to kids nowadays.  But it does include the College Degree that employers will be looking for.  And WITHOUT the tens of thousands of dollars in debt.


  1. It also includes living with mom and dad. Assuming you have a mom AND a dad. And assuming they are willing to let you stay at home. And assuming you can get that minimum wage job. And you have a dependable car. Using an ideal set up to prove a point is ludicrous. Yes it is possible to get through college without too much debt, but it is exceedingly difficult and for those that can't the consequences are crushing. And as an aside calling interest bearing loans at higher than market rates "financial aid" is ridiculous.

  2. I believe there are ways to afford it and it depends also on the kind of profession you're interested in. It takes effort but is worth it.