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Tuition burden saps students

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Sina Richert is in her second year of studying art history at UMD, but she also is getting a very real course on economics.

Richert said she expects that she will graduate from college $40,000 to $50,000 in debt. But the cost of rising tuition isn't the only factor. Add on her monthly bills for rent, utilities, groceries and gas, and it's easy to see why she will be paying off loans for years to come.

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But that scenario hasn't always been the case for college students.

"My grandpa and I were just talking, and he only spent $300 for a whole year of college," Richert said. "That gets you one credit now, maybe not even a credit. ... It's depressing talking to grandparents, even my dad; he didn't pay anything near what we have to pay now."

Richert is referring to the drastic increase in tuition through the years. A Minnesota resident attending UMD for the 2006-07 school year paid $8,580 for tuition alone. This is more than double the $4,017 students paid 10 years ago, and almost 30 times as much as the $294 students were paying during the 1966-1967 school year.

In the meantime, costs of housing, groceries, movie tickets and gas prices and the minimum wage have gone up.

The smallest increase during those decades has been that of the minimum wage, which is only four times the amount it was in 1967, increasing from $1.40 to $5.85 in 2007.

More stress

This might explain the increase in stress for students today, said associate professor Ken Gilbertson, a 1978 UMD graduate and the director of the center for environmental education.

"Students are so stressed out because they are fatigued from working so much to pay for school," Gilbertson said.

That wasn't the case when he was a student, he said.

"I remember not having a lot of money, but I don't remember suffering," Gilbertson said. "I don't ever remember being severely stressed out over paying for school. I don't have any recollection of the pressures it seems [college kids today] get, and no one was working those crazy, crazy hours."

John Brostrom, the senior administrative director at UMD's auxiliary services and a 1970 graduate of UMD, said he agreed.

"Most of my pals could pay for everything with working one job," Brostrom said. "[That was working] less than 10 hours a week ... with a summer job as well. [We] didn't make as much, but the costs of education hadn't reached the high rates that they are at today."

Two jobs

Junior Kayla Jendro has a different story.

Jendro works two jobs at Best Buy and Ridgeview Country Club during most of the year. During the school year, she cuts down her hours, working about 20 to 32 per week.

Working two jobs is not uncommon for students her age, but in the late '70s, it was rare.

"Occasionally there would be someone working two jobs, and we would say, 'Stop being so greedy and chasing the almighty dollar,' " Gilbertson said. "...But now it isn't about greed. It is about survival."

Assistant professor Steven Berry, a 1997 UMD graduate, also worked only one job at a time.

"During my first year [of college] I worked at Hardee's down on London Road," Berry said. "I worked 20 hours a week: two eight-hour shifts on the weekend and some afternoon shifts during the week."

At the time, that was normal.

"A lot of friends did the same thing I did," he said. "Lots of food service and working in the summer. One job was normal, but I did have one friend that would work two jobs in the summer."

However, Richert is having a slightly different experience.

"I pay [for college] through scholarships and grants and a few loans," she said. But even with the scholarships and grants, it isn't enough. "It's depressing," she said.

More than inflation

Brostrom, who has worked at UMD since the year he graduated, has noticed the change in prices.

"I remember paying $98 per quarter in the fall of '65," Brostrom said. "Now we have bigger bills going to Grandma's for a night of eating and drinking. [Students today] have to either work a lot or incur huge debt. The cost of tuition has gone up much higher than the cost of inflation."

Gilbertson agrees.

"We have students in class falling asleep," he said. "When I ask them what is going on, they say, 'Well, I had to work 'til 2 a.m.' "

"For every hour of class, students are expected to study three hours," Gilbertson said. "That is 60 hours of [school] work a week and [students] are fitting in 60 hours of work a week. How do you pull that off? We are asking a whole lot out of [this] generation."

However, it doesn't end with an increase in work. The cost for housing is also much greater than before.

Gilbertson said he remembered the cost of his housing ranging between $100 and $120 each month. Now, he sees his nephew, who is in college, thinking that $300 to $400 a month is a fair price.

"I think, 'wowza,' " he said. "My house payments aren't much more than that."

Gilbertson said he worries that today's generation is teaching itself into the grave with working such hours and learning not to enjoy life.

"I am curious in 20 years what [today's students] will look back and see. I hope [they] can remember what [they] learned and the fun [they] had and not the bags under [their] eyes from working so much."

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