How Much You Need To Work To Cover Tuition in 1978 vs. 2014

October 27th 2014

As we recently pointed out, a student who worked a minimum wage summer job in 1978 could afford to pay their full year's college tuition without taking out loans.


That post went 'viral' and has been shared more than 35,000 times. Why? Because the idea that a college student could work a summer job and cover tuition hasn't been true for decades. So we decided to pinpoint when that changed by mapping the average tuition of all private and public 4-year colleges against the number of weeks of full-time work a person would need to pay for college. Here are the results:

Here's how many weeks of full time, minimum wage work it took to pay for the average tuition of a 4-year private or public university over the last 50 years

Notice that from 1963 (which is how far back National Center for Education Statistics data is available) until the early 1980s, a student could reasonably work during their summer break (around 13-14 weeks for most university students) to afford school. Since then, the number of full time work weeks per year of tuition figure has shot up. We're now at a point where a student would have to work a full-time minimum wage job for almost the entire calendar year to afford the average, $14,000 per year tuition-- which means it's nearly impossible for any college student to attend a 4-year school without taking out student loans.

What changed since the early 1980s?

The cost of college is rising faster than almost any other good. Meanwhile, the minimum wage hasn't even kept up with inflation.

State legislators also cut education budgets, forcing public schools to raise tuition and students to take on more personal debt. In fact, while the cost of college has risen 1120% since 1978, state funding towards college has actually been cut 40%.  Over the last 5 years alone, government education spending has fallen by about $1,800 per student

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Share your opinion

Should working through summer breaks be enough income to pay for college?

No 12%Yes 88%


Average costs of a 4-year public or private college come from the National Center for Education Statistics

Minimum wage from the United States Department of Labor