Wages Are Too Damn Low: The College Tuition Edition

I’ve discussed before how the cost of college has risen much faster than wages. Comparing 1960 to 2011, we find:

In 1961, the minimum wage was $1.15, which means that a student who worked part-time in high-school (and summers) and in college could pay his way through school. UC Berkeley tuition was equal to around 600 hours of minimum wage (not including taxes). Here’s the situation in 2011:

Flagship state universities set their prices below those of elite private colleges. But they are not cheap by any other standard. At the University of Michigan, an in-state freshman will face total expenses of $25,204, a senior $26,810. At Penn State, an in-state freshman will pay $25,416 for tuition, fees, and living expenses this year.

That’s around 3,500 hours of minimum wage (again, I haven’t factored in taxes). Unless a student is involved in one or more of the various sex industries, loans are a requirement–for in-state students.

Well, CEPR contrasted 1980 with 2010, and found a similar pattern (and, yes, I am the punditiest pundit EVAH!):


While support (i.e., subsidies) for students have increased, this still squeezes many lower-middle class students.

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2 Responses to Wages Are Too Damn Low: The College Tuition Edition

  1. Skeptuckian says:

    I would like to see a similar analyis regarding career earnings. Some sort of return on investment thing. My guess would be that ROI has gone down if you compared the present with past (e.g., 1980). It would be interesting to see which has gone down more quickly, H.S. degree career earnings or B.S. career earnings. Also, would be interesting to see at what cost would a college education have to rise to in order to eliminate the lifetime earnings advantage of going to college.

  2. Jim Thomerson says:

    Last time I looked, tuition and fees at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville were a bit over $4000 per semester. Given that my institution has produced a fair number of satisfied and successful students, perhaps it would pay to look around for a similar institution which could do the job for you.

    Back in the 80″s two things happened. For the first time more females than males received Bachelors degrees. It is now the case at all degree levels. At that time a male high school graduate could get a good paying job at the factory. There was considerable argument against the economic value of a college degree. I think the feminization of education was a factor in driving this argument. I have never liked the economic argument because it does not work for a percentage of degree holders. I like much better the argument that a university education leads to a better life, without specifying better =$$$.

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