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College on a Barista Salary?

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If you really think a kid can earn his way through college, guess again. Or live with $100,000 college bills? 

Occasionally I talk with someone who tells me he earned his way through college, so his kids can too. That’s not a surprise, since the percentage of parents willing to help their kids go to college stands at about 77%–and it continues a downward plunge. But just how realistic is it that a kid can cover all college costs?  Sure, I finished my BA with an indebtedness of $100. That’s right, exactly $100. Of course, I need to add that tuition at my state school was $60 a semester in the 1950s. I got most of my room and board as a resident advisor (my dad, who grew up with the Dean of Students, made that possible) and earned pocket money directing church choirs.

Plenty of smart kids gain their first two years of liberal arts requirements from the local community college. But annual costs at our local community colleges are about $6,500–if the student is living with parents. And that can–hopefully–make it possible to finish at a great public university. Annual costs (including room and board) at our fine University of Minnesota are about $26,300.

Here’s how a really smart student spells out the issues in a Minneapolis Star Tribune letter just this month.

I’m a student at the University of Minnesota, and I’ll hopefully be graduating this spring with my B.A. in communication studies. I’m grateful for my studies and my experiences; however, it hasn’t been an easy journey. 

Getting a college degree is expensive and time-consuming. After taking my liberal education requirements at Century College to cut costs, I tried to make it on my own by working a moderate number of hours at a job that paid $9 an hour. I ate through my savings at an alarming rate, and my paychecks simply could not keep me afloat. My grades suffered, and my stress level skyrocketed. I realized that I simply could not do both and had to put school on hold to focus on work.

It didn’t take me long to realize that I could not earn a living wage on the kind of work that was available to me. I moved back in with my dad, sold my car to pay for rent and took a job as a barista that I could work in between classes. Even though I have slashed my expenses to focus on school, I can still barely make enough to feed myself and pay my phone bill.

Thankfully, my family has been able to support me through this experience. But how can we possibly expect to build a better-educated society when someone with my many advantages has struggled so much to get by on poverty wages?

                                Dan Crittenden, Minneapolis

Dan’s letter says it all: how can we possibly expect to build a better-educated society on a Barista salary?

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