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Because I had some extra time on a Sunday afternoon, I thought I would take the time to convert the cost of college into minimum wage hours. I may need to reevaluate how I spend my free time.
The current federally mandated minimum wage is $7.25.
The current average in-state tuition at a public university is $9,410. That figures out to 1,297 hours of work.
Just for fun, and perspective, the minimum wage and average tuition in 1970 was $1.60 and $358 respectively. That represents a 481% increase in minimum wage hours.
But that is just tuition. People also need to sleep and eat, which costs more money, especially if you intend to sleep indoors. To pay the average room, board, AND the average tuition, a minimum wage worker must put in 40 hours per week- for 15 months.
College accreditation boards assume (dictate) that a full time college student will spend between 24-36 hours per week in class or studying. The variance is due to the variations in class content and student aptitude. Let’s call it 30 hours for simplicity.
40 hours working, plus 30 hours schooling, leaves 98 hours per week to also fit in 56 hours of sleeping, giving a student 6 hours per day left over. How luxurious. Anyone can do that right?
Perhaps one can. It would be hard of course, but anything worth doing is hard right?
Maybe those extra six hours a day are necessary for beer-pong and protesting things. Or maybe they are needed to work out ways to find a minimum wage job that will schedule you for 40 hours per week, which doesn’t happen because that’s full time and requires benefits, so probably the student needs two part time jobs that will each schedule out 20 hours a week. If they are both on campus this could work, cut down on travel time and whatnot, but if not this kid will need to schedule in some travel time. On a bus. Because I forgot to figure in the expenses associated with a car. Or laundry. I’m going to pretend this is a pretty responsible student and assume they cut out beer-pong.
The math proves it can be done- at least in a perfect vacuum without unexpected expenses or buying toiletries- or income taxes.
But… and of course there is a but…
This student will not be able to do an internship, play any sports or join any clubs. This student will have to go to class, study, and work, forget playing around. No high jinks or animal house ballyhoo, which sounds like the no nonsense real life dictates any responsible parent would tell their child. Especially if that parent is doling out advice with the wisdom of their own experience from back in 1970.
Which makes me a little sad and terrified.
Sad because things are indeed different now, but also terrified because college’s usefulness is really in all those things outside the classroom. Doing good in class puts a lot of stuff inside your head but it doesn’t put your butt into a job. Most of the things that lead to jobs, like relationship networks, internships, experiences, and interviews, all happen after hours.
That isn’t even considering the things that lead to actual learning and thinking, like study abroad, field work, and participation in diverse experiential activities. This minimum wage working, public school going, student will be working very hard to get the bare minimum of what colleges offer and is very likely going to get some negative feedback from Mom and Dad when they ask for extra money or bring home loads of extra laundry and this student will probably get a lecture about how it was back in the old days and how kids didn’t complain and they did it themselves so quit being a complainey little snowflake.
So, dear snowflake, let me help you a little. What follows is not science, nor does it consider things like taxes and interest, but it gives you a thumbnail of how now compares to then in the spirit of making apples versus oranges more into apples versus crab apples.
Salary- $6,186= $515.50 per month no taxes
Cost of home- $23,600/3 years salary/$65.50 per month for 30 years no interest
New car $3,542/$59 per month for 5 years no interest
Healthcare $380 per year= $31 per month
Rent $65.50 + Car $59 + Ins $31 = $155.50 or 30.16% of income
Minimum wage- $1.60
Tuition at local state U- $358= 223 hours minimum wage work
Salary- $51,939= $4,328.25 no taxes
Cost of home- $292,891/5 year salary/$813 per month for 30 years no interest
New car- $30, 152/$502 per month for 5 years no interest
Healthcare $9,810= $817 per month
Rent $813 + Car $502 + Health $817 = $2132 or 49.25% of income
Minimum wage- $7.25
Tuition at local state U- $9410= 1297 hours minimum wage work
College is 481% more expensive today when converted to minimum wage hours.
Legacy admissions are not a leg up, they are a hand out to the already haves.
Data shows that the number one predictor of the likely education level a child will receive is the level of education the parents have already attained. This is not due to some sort of amniotic intelligence transfer but rather the tendency of most teachers (parents) to teach others, to simply do what they did.
People who have gone to elite colleges are more likely to know the application process, understand the school’s expectations, and better yet, they often know the people making the admissions decisions.
If you look at those who attend elite schools you will find that most of them had parents who went to elite schools, or at least good schools, and as one might guess, these parents also have a good amount of money. Whether the schooling or the money came first doesn’t really matter, but there is surely a solid correlation. In addition, you will find that most of those who are accepted into elite schools had tutors and took test prep classes during grade and high school. These kids being tutored are the A students, not the ones at risk of athletic ineligibility. On top of that, you will also find that most who gain entry into elite colleges attended high schools that have previously sent other students to elite colleges. Turns out that following well-traveled paths is more likely to get you there than forging new trails.
There are few, if any, immaculately conceived scholars who rise from nowhere with potential so obvious that Harvard can see it.
Most people who haven’t been to Harvard don’t know many others who have. Most who never attended Princeton, don’t really know what Princeton is looking for in an applicant. Most at mediocre high schools, are unaware that most at great high schools are taking extra SAT prep classes. Some, who never went to Yale but still managed to accumulate wealth, spend some of that wealth to send their kids to schools where the children of Yale grads go.
That is how people get in.
If you want to investigate potential unfairness in admissions to elite schools, maybe we should look first, I repeat first (not as an afterthought), at the practice of giving preference to those who are already advantaged in the application process.
In light of the Department of Justice’s announced intentions to investigate colleges that enact affirmative action policies in admissions decisions, it might be helpful for the public (and the Whitehouse) to understand a few things about college admissions.
First, you need to know that college admissions is not like the NBA draft. Schools do not collect a pile of applicants and then rank them all starting at their number one draft pick and then start moving their way down the board until they run out of spots. It does not, nor has it ever, worked that way.
While most all colleges are a little different and policies and ideologies vary, the basic standard is that rather than starting at a ranking and working their way down, what admissions boards do is start by setting a floor, or basic cutoff at the bottom, below which the school doubts the applicant’s ability to handle the course of study. This normally consists of a minimum GPA or SAT/ACT score. Once the minimum is set, everyone above that cutoff is “qualified” and fair game for admission. Past that, whatever policy, practice, or magical spell the school wishes to employ to fill up their freshman class, is up to them.
This gets tricky when the school has more qualified applicants than openings, or in some cases, more openings than qualified applicants. In both cases, there are fights, arguments, exceptions, and shenanigans all around in every direction. But however these dust ups get settled, and in all cases, what you need to know is that there are no draft style leader boards with applicants ranked 1-2,000 and consequentially it is impossible for one applicant to take another “more qualified” applicant’s spot.
Why this is important to know, is to help you avoid the mistake of thinking that there are regular, or even rare, scenarios where candidate A loses their spot to a less qualified candidate B. This does not happen because, in almost all cases, the only students being reviewed are above the predetermined floor and consequentially they are all “qualified”, and if they are all qualified, it is up to the committee to decide who they want to let in, or who is “most” qualified. Consequentially, determining who is more qualified than another is so subjective that it is impossible for you, or I, or anyone outside of that closed-door room, to be able to make that determination. Some schools (public) decide that within the pool of qualified applicants they will privilege kids from in-state. Some (private) may decide they want a sampling of students from all over the globe. Some schools work hard to recruit students to specific programs, like math or science, others may value racial and ethnic representation and the experience diversity brings to a campus, but in all cases, remember that the admissions committees are assembling these classes from a pool of candidates who have already been deemed qualified.
But of course there are always exceptions, or things that look like exceptions. Folk lore holds that these exceptions normally come in the cases of athletes and racial minorities. In addressing this lore, allow me to be a little crass for a moment.
What colleges care about most, are rankings and money. While rankings are nice for bragging rights, they are mostly relevant in how they can translate into more donations and applications, which ultimately means more money. So really, what colleges care about most, is just money.
If you have money, or the ability to bring in money, a college will let you in. Period. This is why the NCAA gets very finicky about minimum academic requirements. This independent third party has set some minimum academic standards for all schools to follow and then deems any applicants below those standards ineligible to play, and thereby unable to bring the college more money. So those kids don’t get in. This is also why some rankings, like US News & World Report, put certain metrics like graduation rates, incoming class GPA, and SAT scores, into their formula. If a college compromises on their admission standards, they get a lower ranking. Colleges do not like to drop in rankings.
Please keep in mind that normally the NCAA minimum standard is way below the average college’s admissibility floor, and that the desirable US News reported averages are way above the normal college’s admissibility floor. With this in mind, when and why would a college violate its own standards to let in an unqualified or less qualified student?
The two biggest, or most frequent, instances of compromised college standards are for athletes and legacies. Most Americans are familiar with the reasoning of the athlete exception, you might even be able to name their names, but in case you are less familiar with what a legacy is, this is an applicant who is the child of an alum. Legacies get preference because they are more likely to not only translate into future tuition dollars via children and grandchildren, but they are more likely to become donors. Every University and college wants to become a part of your family. More specifically, they want to become that charming, lovable, member of your family that shows up to every family function, but is probably broke and will definitely pull you into a side room and ask for a small loan. This family member will let Junior in, despite Junior’s C- average. Colleges will take Junior because he brings along extra money.
Racial minorities do not naturally bring along extra money. Diversity is indeed a metric considered in most rankings, but it is only one of many and henceforth far outweighed by GPAs and SATs. Because of this, colleges are not likely to let in any applicant who is below their admissibility floor simply because they are a minority… unless they have money.
So to review, let us say the floor is a 3.5 GPA and the college in question only has one spot left.
Scenario 1: Applicant A is a white male with a 3.4 and applicant B is a black female with a 3.4 and a very sad story. Neither are admissible, neither get in.
Scenario 2: Applicant A is a white male with a 3.6 and Applicant B is a black female with a 3.5 and no sad story. Both are admissible, I probably take B.
Scenario 3: Applicant A is a white male with a 1.7 and a huge trust fund and applicant B is a black female with a 3.9 who conquered poverty to get a great SAT score. A gets in.
Scenario 4: Applicant A is a white male with a 3.9 and great SAT while Applicant B is a black female with a 3.6 and a moderate SAT. A gets in.
One last scenario just to make a point: Applicant A is a white male with a 1.7 and a rich alum parent and Applicant B is a black male who runs the 40 in 4 seconds flat and can bench press 400 pounds. A gets in.
A gets in because A already has money and B might break his leg.
College admissions is a high stakes, high stress, poker game for sure, but let one thing be clear. If you are a qualified candidate, you will not lose your spot to an unqualified competitor simply because they aren’t white.
Unless they are rich.