In 1979, when the minimum wage was $2.90, a hard-working student with a minimum-wage job could earn enough in one day (8.44 hours) to pay for one academic credit hour. If a standard course load for one semester consisted of maybe 12 credit hours, the semester’s tuition could be covered by just over two weeks of full-time minimum wage work—or a month of part-time work. A summer spent scooping ice cream or flipping burgers could pay for an MSU education.
The cost of an MSU credit hour has multiplied since 1979. So has the federal minimum wage. But today, it takes 60 hours of minimum-wage work to pay off a single credit hour, which was priced at $428.75 for the fall semester.
–You can’t work your way through college (emphasis added).
Basically, while both the minimum wage and the price of college courses (in the US) have risen over time, the latter has risen much more than the former. There’s a graph, even. Whip it out the next time some asshole Baby Boomer makes a “back in my day I flipped burgers to get my degree” style bootstraps speech.
(And this is just the US. In Australia, for example, my parents had free university tuition–which got them both out of working class families and into the white collar professional/executive upper-middle class, if we’re going to talk about social mobility for a second–and while the Australian student loan system isn’t yet as bad at it is in the US, I still had something like a $30,000 debt by the time I graduated. Kids These Days have it worse than I did, and Kids Next Tomorrow are likely to have it worse again.)