Barney: College Isn’t Designed for Working People


Storey McDonald

(Graphic by Storey McDonald | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Sebastian Barney, Opinion Writer


Pop culture makes the college experience seem like nothing but parties and fun. As any college student will tell you, this isn’t what university is really like. The typical night for a student includes studying and doing homework. For most of us, college isn’t free. We have to work to afford it, oftentimes while we’re engaged in it.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 25% of full time college students work a minimum of 20 hours a week. College students don’t receive enough aid and balancing work and school at the same time is impossible if you’d like to have a life outside of them. This lifestyle isn’t healthy for development and is a detriment to everyone.

The University of Utah considers anyone taking 12 or more credit hours to be full time. Typically, for each credit hour, three hours will be spent outside of class on assignments and studying. This means that the average full-time college student spends around 36 hours per week on school, outside of class. That rule isn’t concrete — depending on the class, you can spend an hour studying and doing homework for every hour inside of the classroom. Conversely, you can spend five hours per hour in lecture for a more difficult class. Given that there are only 168 hours in a week, and you can only spend roughly 112 of them awake while being healthy, it becomes difficult to manage work and school at the same time.

Responsibilities aren’t the only thing to worry about, though. College students are people, usually aged 18 to 24. This is a major time in an individual’s life, in which a significant amount of important development will happen. Missing out on this key period is harmful and sad. Students shouldn’t have to miss out on experiencing their lives just because they have to work and go to school at the same time.

This doesn’t even mention burnout or prevailing mental health issues. Universities typically offer counseling to mitigate some of the stresses of college, but things like that are only helpful to an extent. Negative mental health issues can also be attributed to work. As you can imagine, one can compound the issues of the other.

There are a few different ways to receive financial aid for university, such as scholarships, federal student aid through FAFSA or outside aid — such as family assistance. When we create a system, we shouldn’t assume that everyone has access to the same number of resources. Not everyone can get help from parents, family members or scholarships.

Scholarships are great if you can get one. But not everyone will, which is the problem. Even if you do get a scholarship, you may have to adhere to specific requirements, which requires even more time commitments. Not only that, but it might also not cover the entire cost of tuition.

The most typical way to get financial aid is through FAFSA, which is flawed. To get money from FAFSA, you need to provide information on your parent’s income status. That information will decide whether or not you will receive financial aid, even if you receive no help from your parents. There are ways around this, such as being 24 years old. If you don’t have access to a legal guardian’s income information, you can contact FAFSA directly and explain your situation, but this doesn’t guarantee aid.

Even despite all that, these are only solutions for paying tuition, not living expenses. Being able to go to school is neat but the ability to eat and have a roof over your head is infinitely more important. These inadequate solutions can mean students taking out personal loans, with large interest rates, to get by or to pay tuition.

We’ve created a system that disincentivizes working class people from participating in educational programs. This is bad, since barring people from education serves no purpose other than maintaining growth for those who have money and taking it away from people who do not. It’s not designed for poor people, which is the group that benefits most from a college education. A system that allows everyone to participate in upper-level education will allow better social mobility and help people find fulfillment in their lives.

Politically, we can solve part of the problem by introducing legislation that makes tuition at public universities free. College is too expensive and tuition should be less anyway, but this is only a partial solution to our larger problem. We need to make great investments in our future.

Realistically, we need a more robust redesign of our curriculums to be more flexible. Being expected to spend the majority of your time on school makes responsibilities outside of school unmanageable. Decreasing the time spent per class will solve this. We can also ditch the semester system for something that is less rigid.

A study by BMC found that international students, who typically incur lower debts due to not being stuck in our system, had a decreased prevalence of stress related issues like burnout. These changes need to come within the colleges themselves, not through politics.

The massive time commitment required of university students makes upper-level education inaccessible to those with responsibility or those who can benefit the most from it. This is bad for society, and we need to do something about it. Specifically, we need to make college cheaper, and more importantly, more flexible. With these changes we can have a more educated and fulfilled society.


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