For all the rhetoric we hear about college being unaffordable, the fact is, ANYONE with normal ability can attain a college degree. For the 2015-16 school year, the University of Montana’s cost of attendance for an in-state resident is $16,599. While that figure sounds high, it is not overwhelming. The concept of seeking employment to raise funds for one’s own education currently resides outside societal norms, but working and saving are sure-fire ways to graduate debt free. Additionally, working one’s way through college ensures a graduate will be more competitive against peers who lack any meaningful work experience.
Truth is, if you can get accepted into a state school, you can afford to graduate debt-free. Here’s how:
1) Beginning in your sophomore year of high school, find a part-time job and save $500/month working after school, and $1000/mo during the summers by working full-time. This job can be anything from flipping burgers in a fast food restaurant to stocking shelves in a hardware store. If you do this for 3 years, you will a save $22,500.
2) Upon graduation from high school, live at home for the next year, and by working full-time and saving $1500/month, you will be able to save an additional $18,000.
3) Once you enter college, earn $750/month during the school year, and $1500/month during the summers. If you do this for 4 years, you will have earned a total of $45,000
Grand total: $85,500, which is more than enough to earn a 4-year degree at the University of Montana. I am making the assumption that the only jobs available to teenagers pay only $8.00 per hour, but a college kid with 4 years work experience should be able to make a much higher income waiting tables or working construction. For those kids able to earn scholarships or government grants, all the better, and students willing to live at home and attend a local community college to complete their general requirements will experience even greater cost savings. However, the program above is a sure-fire way to guarantee there will be enough funds for college even if you have no other options but to pay your own way at a 4-year state college.
While some will argue that the work described above will rob kids of the joys of youth, I have seen how college debt and no previous work experience rob college graduates of the joys of young adulthood. Trying to manage the cost of an apartment, transportation, food, utilities, and a social life while simultaneously servicing a monthly student loan payment of several hundred dollars a month can be a real challenge; but, as I have demonstrated, student loan debt is completely unnecessary for the student willing to think and act outside the box.
If someone convinces themselves that work is drudgery, it will be; however, if they choose to see work as a valuable way to please others, gain valuable work experience, and save the necessary funds to attend college, it is quite possible that work during high school and college will be a social and emotional -as well as financial – net positive.