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Opinion

College costs hurt students

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October 4, 2007

Does anybody remember the days when being a college student meant you were rich?

I know—when was that?

Back in the day, college was a place for elitists. Tuition was paid for by scholarship, wealthy parents or extended family members. Dormitories were furnished with real wood furniture and students attended class clothed in skirts, dress shirts and ties.

Today campuses are filled with students who acquire more and more debt each year they study, adorned in pajamas some days and sweatshirts most other days, who are lucky if they get a mattress in their room that doesn’t have any mysterious stains on it from last year’s inhabitant.

Don’t get me wrong—I am not about to suggest that a university education should be restricted to those who can afford to recline by a huge fire in their robe and slippers, smoking a pipe and drinking wine while reading the Wall Street Journal.

I’m not even about to suggest that students today should stop wearing sweatshirts or pajamas. Education does not depend on what clothes we wear, and if being comfortable helps you learn, then pajamas it is!

No, my complaint lies with the fact that most college students today simply can’t be rich.

Everyone knows the college student cliché: I can’t afford (insert item here); I’m a college student. And whoever hears will immediately respond with an exaggerated nod of the head as understanding immediately sets in. These days, college equals poor. And quite frankly, I don’t like it.

More and more students are having to pay for their education on their own (despite what FAFSA likes to assume about parental contributions). But no high school student can make enough money to cover the expenses of college, and being a full-time student doesn’t allow enough time to work enough hours outside of class to make the money in-term. What that means is that nearly every person attending classes at a university is attending thanks to loans, and that means debt.

You would think that with more and more people paying tuition, that universities could afford to give their students a bit of a break. Every year enrollment goes up, and tuition goes up, and services almost seem to be going down the drain. It’s like those mysterious missing socks that go into the dryer but never come out—where does all the money go?

And not only is this an issue of money, but also an issue of the education itself. Apart from questioning the quality of education we get for our money, the fact that students are forced to worry about their financial situation adversely affects their class work.

When students are forced to work outside jobs to pay for rent or even for tuition, it takes away from their ability to perform to their best abilities academically. Even if the stress doesn’t bother them, the fact that there is only so much time in a day will have its affects.

Take this not-so-hypothetical situation. Say you work 20 hours a week, take 15 credits and even just one extracurricular activity (which is practically required if you want to have a decent-looking resume). There isn’t much time left in any given week. Add in an estimated two hours of homework for every hour of lecture, and you end up with 75 hours of nothing but work, class and homework. Include say an extra 10 hours for the aforementioned extracurricular, and we’re up to 85 hours every week accounted for out of a possible 168—travel time not included. Throw in any semblance of a social life(such as saying “hello” and “goodbye” to a roommate as you run in and out the door), and there’s not a whole lot of time left for something as essential as eating or sleeping. And in my personal experience, this is a conservative estimate.

This is the life of a college student. Or at least one who’s really trying to get something out of this “priceless” education.

Something needs to be done. Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer. The work load is heavy, but I do agree that in the end, it is worth it. After all, I am one of the thousands—millions, even—of college students in the country racking up debt and working myself beyond the boundaries of exhaustion. But it’s not fair to the students. We are here because we want to learn, not to spend four years growing gray hairs or ulcers. There must be some way—any way—to make it easier!

Katrina Styx is a student at UW-River Falls.