Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bootstrap bullcrap

This photo has been making the rounds recently amongst critics of the OWS movement.
It purports to represent the story of a "bootstrap" college student and to juxtapose his/her work ethic with the whining, petulant, and pampered children purported to be the chief constituency of OWP. The only problem with the bootstrap story told in the photo is that it is pure bull. There's a detailed take down of it in Persephone Magazine, an online magazine, here, but let me just summarize the essentials in the article for you.

Lets start with the cost of a college degree. Here's the bill for Jane Doe for four years at the University of Washington (a moderately priced public school). In all cases the numbers represent low ball estimates.

tuition (in state): $42,300 (4 yrs)
rent : $460/month (not counting summers) $16,520
utilities: $5o/month $1,800
phone: $45/month $2,160 (no cable tv or internet fees are included)
bus pass (no car or car insurance) $76/quarter $912
food: $200/month $7,200 (not counting summer months)
books/supplies: $1,035/year $4,140 (according to UW)
health insurance: $502/quarter 6,024
total cost of 4 years at UW: $81,056 (no car, no new clothes, no eating out, no films, no trips, no haircuts, no emergency expenses, $75,030 if parents pay medical insurance)

Now, how does bootstrap Jane pay for this?
According to her sign on the photo she works 30 hours/week. Never mind that this is a very high number - give her the benefit of the doubt. Washington's minimum wage is $8.67/hour. If we give her 52 weeks per year that comes to $11,472/year or $45,891 for all four years. A little over half the entire bill.

But here's the part that doesn't hold up. Jane says on her sign that she got "decent grades" in high school and landed two scholarships that pay 90 percent of her tuition. I'm not sure what "decent" means but I think it's fair to say that getting 90 percent of one's tuition paid for someone in that category is very much the exception and not the rule for students with "decent" grades.

Chew on these figures (again from the article):
The UW says that it gave out $15 million in academic scholarships to a total of 2,700 students last year (that's 10 percent of the student population - UW has 27,000 undergrads enrolled). If you distributed that money equally amongst that 10 percent of the student body, that would amount to about $5,000/person or roughly half of the tuition costs at UW. This is not of course how the money is distributed. A select few may get something close to a full ride, meaning that the rest get less, considerably less. Let's be clear about who we're talking about. We're talking about the top ten percent, students who were deemed academically distinguished. The vast majority of that group are looking at a four year bill in the neighborhood of at least $20,000, probably much higher. The rest of the students, the other 90 percent, are going to pay out of their pocket, or their parents' pockets.

According to UW the midrange GPA group of incoming freshmen is 3.6 - 3.9 . Obviously, getting "decent grades" can get you into UW but it is not all likely that it will get you any academic scholarship money. Obviously, for the average and above average college student, a sizable debt is, unfortunately not a function of character or work ethic, it is rather a statistical probability. And let's not forget that we have not even begun to factor in the costs of graduate school where costs have risen as fast if not faster.

None of this is meant to disparage the example of someone who has worked hard and earned a degree without going into debt; rather, it is to call bullshit on the notion that someone who ends up with a ton of college debt is by definition a slacker and, worse, a whiner. The self congratulatory tone of that sign suggests a pretty shallow and self absorbed view of things.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was refreshing. I had seen this photo posted on some friends' facebook pages and was irked. I'm okay with having college debt for the chance to go to a great school, and don't feel like people who took out school loans are lazy whiners. Thanks for posting!
(still reading!)

2:09 AM  

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