The Cost of College is Making My Daughter Angry and I Get It

And I don’t want to become one of those “back in my day” people.

My daughter started her first job this week. She’s working at a local car wash, checking people in, getting them into the wash bay, and selling month-long memberships. She’s excited and I’m a proud mama.

Last night, she was telling me how much her paycheck was going to be and I reminded her of the importance of saving half of it. This is what I did when I had my first job slinging popcorn at the movie theatre where my two best friends had gotten jobs, as well.

I told her that I gave half my paycheck to my mom for college costs. She made a face.

“What’s that? What’s the face?” I asked her.

She told me that if one more person told her how they put themselves through college working part-time and now she should do the same, she was going to scream. Then, apparently, I started making a face.

“What’s that? What’s the face?” she asked me. Like mother, like daughter.

I told her I was doing math in my head. I have a degree in English and a “doing math face.”

I do spite math. This is when something gets my dander up and I run numbers on it so that I can be pissed off about it and be able to logically support my pissiness.

I’m not one for pissiness for pissiness’s sake.

Turns out, my daughter has every reason to be annoyed as hell with people acting like paying for college is an attainable goal working part-time at a car wash. It’s not.

Let’s break this down.

In 1992, the cost of my tuition for a semester at a state university was $1,250. The minimum wage was $4.25. That meant that I had to work 295 hours to pay for tuition. Breaking it down further, that meant that if I worked 15 or so hours a week through the semester, I’d be good. Of course, that’s just base tuition. I’d have to work 30 hours a week total to afford my dorm on top of that.

In case you’re not in the “holy crap, my kid’s going to college” stage of your life, that same state university now costs $5,325 a semester and the minimum wage in our state will be $12.15 in January. That means she has to work 438 hours to meet the same goal. That’s 24 hours a week. Even if she worked full time while taking a full course load, she would not be able to pay for both her tuition and her dorm.

I remember sitting down with a financial advisor when my daughter was a baby. Like fresh out of my uterus baby. He told us that we needed to start saving money for college right then and told us it would cost us $125k for an in-state school, $250k if she wanted to go out of state.

That seemed like a ridiculous amount of money 16 years ago, especially when we had just bought our first home together for a whole whopping $140k.

We did start saving for her right then and have put money aside for her every month since. We are still nowhere near that $125k. Nowhere near it. It’s occurred to me that the figure that financial advisor threw at us seemed ridiculous because it IS ridiculous.

The cost of college has so far outpaced inflation that the end of our kids’ senior year in high school doesn’t bring joy, but rather anxiety.

The commentary about paying for college needs to stop. I had it easy. My parents were able to foot the bill for my college tuition because it wasn’t going to put them in the poor house. I can do the same for my daughter but it’s taken me 16 years to save the money to do that.

I had a tuition waiver working at the university newspaper. This does not exist anymore. It’s a blatant admittance that the cost of college has soared right out the roof.

I hear a lot of people complain about initiatives geared toward making college accessible. They clearly have not done their spite math.

Do my daughter and everyone roughly her age a huge favor. When you see them stressed about how they're supposed to pay for college and not fret about graduating with a mountain of debt, don’t belittle them. They’re freaked out and they got screwed.

They’re coming out of high school and looking at job ads that require a four-year degree to make $15 an hour. They know the job market is paying less and the cost of rent is skyrocketing. This does not bode well for them to be able to pay off said student loans while not living in a car.

I want my daughter’s first job experience to be fun. I want her to be able to spend part of her money doing teenage things like buying a new skateboard. I want her to be able to do this without stressing about whether she should save her whole paycheck instead of just half.

And do me a favor as her mother. Don’t tell me it builds her character. I’m her mother. I raised her. She has character in spades. I made sure of that. It was my job. Struggle is not the only conduit to character.

I feel a loss for words in comforting my daughter about growing college anxiety. I did the best I could. She’s doing the best she can. We can’t help but feel let down by a system designed to put our kids into a hole and then force them to climb out of it. They deserve better.

Flaming pinball, nerd, music lover, wine snob, horrible violin player. No, I won’t stop taking pictures of my drinks. vanessaltorre@gmail.com IG: vanessaltorre

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