The choice to pursue a college degree in America is increasingly shackled to the inevitability of facing mounting debt, forcing more students to work the equivalent of a full-time job while being a full-time undergraduate.
"You have two choices," wrote Pilar Mendoza, an associate professor of higher education administration at the Univesity of Florida in the Journal of Student Financial Aid. "You either work or you acquire debt."
This morning's New York Times, in an article called "Battling College Costs, a Paycheck at a Time," reporter Ron Lieber chronicles the task ahead for students attempting to acquire a diploma while trying—often unsuccessfully—to keep debt at bay. The nation's collective student loan balance is somewhere around $1 trillion and continuing to rise.
"Unless they have an unusual combination of bravery, luck and discipline," Lieber writes that few students can actually work their way through college in a normal amount of time without debt and little or no need-based financial aid.
Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney suggested at the height of the 2012 race for the White House that teenagers could ask parents for loans if all else failed, but that's not an option for most students:
No one tracks how many students are trying to work their way through without parental assistance or debt, but plenty work long hours while also attending classes full time. As of 2010, some 17 percent of full-time undergraduates of traditional age worked 20 to 34 hours a week, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. About 6 percent worked 35 hours or more.
According to the College Board, the average debt among all bachelor’s degree recipients from public universities was $13,600 for the 2010-11 school year.