Mendenhall: Affording College Means a Higher Minimum Wage

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By Addison Mendenhall, Opinion Writer

 

Utah has one of the lowest minimum wage rates in the United States. It currently sits at $7.25, which is the same as the Federal Minimum Wage rate. The last time that the minimum wage changed was in 2008 when it went from $6.55 to $7.25.

Many proposals aim to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. The majority of college students support this, as many full-time students can only work part-time jobs while tuition continues to increase. This calls for a dire reevaluation of how college students can afford higher education today. Higher tuition costs put students at a disadvantage when the minimum wage isn’t being adjusted simultaneously.

During the fall 2020 semester, the University of Utah announced that the proposed tuition increase of 2% would be waived to alleviate costs during the pandemic. A year and a half later, they have gone full steam ahead on their new tuition increase request. This proposed 4.8% increase will see a full-time undergraduate semester go from $4,314.15 to $4,573 in the upcoming year.

This tuition increase raises many concerns regarding college affordability and worth, especially for students struggling to find well-paying jobs in a post-pandemic world. As many individuals continue to find their footing after a difficult last few years, this increase is incredibly irresponsible at this time. College tuition prices have risen more and more since 1970, while the value of a minimum wage keeps declining due to inflation.

The U waived its online class fee at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This fee has now returned, and many students that relied on online classes must pay these fees once again. The original cost of tuition is already high enough without more unnecessary fees. The U showed us that they can, and will function perfectly well without these additional fees. Students will see a “student success fee” charge on their tuition statement each semester. This charge is described as a fee that covers learning experiences beyond the classroom, including online learning resources. The U charges students for online learning in more than one way.

Taking a look at my own tuition bill, several additional fees and charges stack on top of the base tuition. For students struggling to pay tuition as is, these fees come as an unwelcome surprise. If a student was paid the minimum wage, it would take at least five hours of work to cover the cost of the $30 student success fee alone. This charge combined with the Flex Online program fee of $60 per class makes even one online class at least $90 extra on top of regular tuition.

40% of undergraduate students drop out, and this rate likely correlates to the ever-rising tuition costs. 38% of undergraduate college dropouts say that they made their decision based on the affordability of higher education. This means that only two percent contribute to other reasons outside of finances.

Working 15 hours a week at minimum wage pay throughout the year would not be enough by itself to pay for even a semester of college. This doesn’t include room and board either. Although financial aid comes in the form of grants and scholarships, some students do not qualify or meet certain criteria for this funding. The U needs to reconsider how these students who don’t qualify can actually pay for their schooling. Beyond scholarships and financial aid, tuition should be reasonable from all perspectives.

College students must now choose between a college experience or having little to no debt. Full-time students often can only work part-time, while full-time workers usually opt for a part-time class schedule. College is a unique time of career exploration and socialization, which is hard to attain when students need to decide if they should pick up an extra shift or spend time connecting with their peers. A lack of minimum wage increase has forced many to make this choice.

The U needs to take a step back and recognize how much a near five percent tuition raise will affect their student body overall. Our legislature also must recognize an ever-growing need to raise the minimum wage to support its college students. Being more understanding of the financial backgrounds and limitations of students should take center-stage, not the back-burner, in deciding to raise the minimum wage.

 

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@addsmendenhall