The Cost of Working Your Way Through College

This lengthy NY Times article focuses a spotlight on the very difficult issue of how many undergraduates are forced to work long hours to either minimize their post-graduation debt burden and also meet their annual tuition and related expenses:

The piece highlights a student working to pay the $80,000 it costs to attend Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.  Even at this rural institution, the rise in tuition for residents forces difficult choices for those who do not come from well-off families.

The notion of working to pay off college debt has long been a part of American higher education.  I’ve known friends going to college at night while working full-time jobs in past years.  But the rising tuition costs coupled with the slow recovery out of the recession have placed new burdens on students who must enter college with a clear vision about the end-game. How will my interests and skills, tied to my choice of a major, enable me to find employment within a reasonable period of time after I graduate?  Community colleges have long been the place where the curriculum is tied to vocational choices –but now there is a new burden on our four-year institutions.

I’m worried that the economy will, de facto, increasingly segregate students by allowing those who can afford it, to major in the liberal arts,  while narrowing the options for other students to more “practical” academic disciplines where there is an easier linkage to be made to an industry or sector hiring when they get to the end of their senior year.



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