Insights · October 1st, 2007

Today, the front page of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer read, “U.S. college students buried under debt.”

Are today’s young people just buying iPods and designer flip-flops instead of saving their cash for school? Are they too busy drinking five-dollar microbrews to get part-time jobs to pay for tuition? Let’s look at the numbers . . .

When I started my Bachelor’s degree at the University of Washington on October 1, 2001, exactly six years ago, my quarterly tuition was $1,197 per quarter for state residents like me and $4,289 for non-residents. When I graduated in June 2005, my final quarter’s tuition was $1,762 – a 47% increase in just four years. (My non-resident classmates paid $5,972, a hefty 28% increase.)

This fall quarter, residents pay $2,129 and non-residents pay $7,377, nearly double what I paid just six years ago. Keep in mind that most students enroll in three quarters per year, September through June, making the yearly tuition rates $6,387 and $22,131, respectively. That’s just tuition – room, board, books, and fees are extra.

As if that’s not enough of a burden, a few days ago I read about the rising cost of rental housing in the Seattle P-I. When I moved out on my own six years ago, the average Seattle apartment cost just over $800. These days, the average is $1,001, a 25% increase.

Think today’s young people are lazy? Try succeeding in full-time college classes (a 30- to 40-hour per week endeavour including study time) while working for an extra $22,131 for tuition. Say you worked full-time at an $11 per hour entry-level job, which is well above minimum wage, on top of going to the U.W. as a non-resident. After paying tuition, at the end of the month, you’d have about 62 bucks leftover to pay for books, school fees, taxes, rent, groceries, maybe even a little medical insurance – and of course, an iPod. (Hey, at least the U.W. provides cheap bus passes.)

When I worked as a college counselor, I met many young students who were attempting to do just that. Working 20 to 40 hours per week on top of school is no easy task. Grades slip, and students struggle to enjoy college. Students rush from class to work and back to class, exhausted and too tired to study or have fun at the end of the day. Lots of students live at home with their parents, missing out on that first taste of independence that college should offer. Unfortunately, many young adults must rely on cars to commute to their jobs – adding another huge expense, with auto loan payments, fuel costs, repairs, and insurance, which is typically more expensive for young adults than for older people.

The moral of the story? Even with all this struggle and a bit of grant money, most students still need to take on debt to make ends meet.

So it’s official. Debt levels for the (those born since 1982) are totally out of control. Before many Millennials even reach the age of 25, they’ve racked up enough debt to equal all their income for the next five or ten years, and it will take nearly a lifetime to pay off. So much for going to college to get ahead.

P.S. The Federal deficit is close to $9 trillion, or $30,000 per person – of course, that’s a bill that will be forwarded to Millennials.


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Nikolas Badminton – Chief Futurist

Nikolas Badminton

Nikolas is the Chief Futurist of the Futurist Think Tank. He is world-renowned futurist speaker, a Fellow of The RSA, and has worked with over 300 of the world’s most impactful companies to establish strategic foresight capabilities, identify trends shaping our world, help anticipate unforeseen risks, and design equitable futures for all. In his new book – ‘Facing Our Futures’ – he challenges short-term thinking and provides executives and organizations with the foundations for futures design and the tools to ignite curiosity, create a framework for futures exploration, and shift their mindset from what is to WHAT IF…

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