In Blog: Factually Speaking

Classes are underway again and it is an exciting time for students like me. We get to see old friends, take new and interesting classes, and experience the unique culture our campuses have to offer. However, there is a question that pesters us every waking moment, gnawing at us as we listen to lectures…“How the heck am I going to pay for this?”

At 17, with my only work experience being Burger King, I had to know EXACTLY what I wanted to do for my entire life and how I was going to pay for it. Both are equally daunting at that age. Naturally, when choosing what school to go to, cost was a huge factor. How students pay varies. Some of us might have some money saved up from minimum wage jobs, parents who are able to contribute, or scholarships that help ease the burden. Even so, many of us will struggle to graduate without taking out student loans that will saddle us with debt for the next decade or more of our lives.

I went with Michigan State University (MSU), and am majoring in Economics and Public Policy. Let me tell you, it is NOT cheap. Every semester I face a cost of anywhere from $6,000 to $9,000 depending on the amount of credits I take, and it keeps rising every year. I am also starting my master’s in Public Policy at MSU, which costs even more. Keep in mind this is for an in-state student, living off campus. Out-of-state students living on campus face essentially double the tuition cost, and have to live on campus for the first year adding another 10 grand in room and board.

And I am not alone. The League’s recent report on higher education funding and student debt found that 62 percent of Michigan college students graduate with debt, averaging $29,450. It’s even worse for students and families of color.

In an ideal world, all of us would be able to find a career-related paid internship or job that allows us to cover the full cost of tuition. However, those are elusive and highly competitive. So most of us pay through one of two ways—either work sporadic hours at jobs that can accommodate our schedules (typically a minimum wage position) or take out student loans. This is in conjunction with classes that last multiple hours every day and give multiple hours’ worth of homework, and a career-related unpaid internship (such as my current role as Kids Count Intern at the League) to improve our chances of employment upon graduation. At the end of the week, no matter which we choose, we are physically and mentally exhausted.

There is an alternate path worth mentioning, technical or vocational schools. It is an excellent alternative that is cheaper, often involving an apprenticeship with on-the-job training, and pays a good living wage once training is complete. This also provides you with a means to support yourself and go to university if you so choose. However, many of us do not even realize this is an option until we have already committed to a university and signed off on loans.

We face an increasingly competitive job market that demands high-skilled workers. Without a strong educational foundation, our opportunities are limited and the economy stagnates. It is essential that state government increase higher education funding to ensure all people have the opportunity to attain a post-secondary education without worrying about putting food on the table.

— Carlos Rios-Santiago

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    Hi Carlos, I am currently conducting a research project on public university tuition caps in the state of Michigan and would love your input. Let me know if this is possible.

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