Home > Commentary, News, Policy, The Problem > Newt Gingrich’s Work Study Plan Doesn’t Add Up

Newt Gingrich’s Work Study Plan Doesn’t Add Up

The Republican candidates for president debated at Oakland University just north of Detroit a few days ago, and several students expressed concerns about the current student loan crisis.  Apparently only two candidates had the chance to answer their concerns – Ron Paul, whose opinion I have already blogged about, and Newt Gingrich, who had this to say:

Calling the current student loan program an “absurdity,” Gingrich said he supports forcing more students to take part in work-study programs. It would be a “culture shock for the students of America to learn we actually expect them to go to class, study, get out quickly, charge as little as possible, and emerge debt free by doing the right things for four years,” he said.

Having held a few work study positions back when I was in college, I decided to check Newt’s math.  Many work study positions, including those I held, are paid at the federal minimum wage, and they also have limitations on the number of hours a student can work.  During the school year I was limited to 10 hrs per week so, for example, when I worked in my school’s foreign language lab in Spring of 1998, I made $5.15 per hour (minimum wage in that year – and for many years after) or a grand total of $51.50 per week before taxes.  Tuition at my university at that time?  Approximately $17000 per year.

But let’s pretend those pesky limits on hours hadn’t been there.  To earn my tuition, in an imaginary utopia where there were no taxes, I would have had to work 3300 hours per year, or 63 hours per week – with no time off and while going to school full-time.  And remember, this is if work study wasn’t taxed, which, of course, it is.  Yes, Newt, that seems realistic.

Now, I actually had a full-tuition scholarship which also covered my books, so, realistically, I really only needed money for food, rent, utilities and other basic necessities.  And I was allowed to work 30 hours per week during the summer.  So let’s pretend that I worked every single week of the year, 12 at 30 hours per week and 40 at 10 hours per week.  So with not a single hour off during the entire year, I would have made about $3900 before taxes.  I lived in a low-cost city so, with a roommate, my rent was $200 per month or, $2400 per year.  Both winters and summers were horrible where I lived so heating and cooling costs could be high, but for argument’s sake, let’s say utilities ran around $40 per month on average – $480.  Now, let’s say I spent about $25 per week on groceries – not just food but soap, toilet paper, the works.  $1300.  That brings me to bare minimum expenses of $4180.  Still $280 over what work study would have given me.

So, with a full-tuition scholarship, in an imaginary world full of lollipops and void of taxes, without taking off a single workable hour the entire year including Christmas and other holidays, without owning a car or having cable or a cell phone (which I didn’t actually – since it was the dark ages of the 90s), without buying a shred of new clothing, without getting a single haircut, without, in fact, so much as seeing a movie – I would still have come up $280 short.

So, please, Newt, tell me again how those students who don’t have full-tuition scholarships and who don’t live in a tax free utopia and who dare to get haircuts are supposed to get by on work study?

And just to bring it up to date, the current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.  Tuition at my alma mater is now just under $25,000 per year.  So in tax free la la land, a current work study student with no other source of income would have to work 66 hours per week, every week, to cover their tuition – 3 hours more per week than they would have had to in the booming 90s.  The school’s estimated cost with food, housing, and fees is over $35,000, which brings us to about 93 hours per week.

If only such pesky matters such as sleep and, you know, classes, didn’t get in the way, everyone could pay their way through college!

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  1. Mike Monroe
    November 14, 2011 at 8:18 am

    Mr. Gingrich wasn’t talking about la la land or your alma mater. He was discussing the college of the Ozarks and the specifics of their program. Got any specifics on that dumbass? Sounds like you need to go back to your alma mater and get your money back.

    • Administrator
      November 16, 2011 at 8:08 pm

      The College of the Ozarks was not mentioned in that article nor was Gingrich speaking to students from that institution, but if you must know, according to the National Review – not exactly a liberal bastion, by the way – of that school’s $17,600 tuition, only $4060 actually comes from work – the rest is federal/state grants or school-sponsored scholarships. Interestingly, these are almost the exact figures I used in analyzing the difference between the cost of tuition and the amount a student could expect to earn via a part-time job when I was in college, but I’m going to go ahead and assume that such a correlation means nothing to you. Furthermore, there are maybe four or five institutions like The College of the Ozarks in the country so most students, no matter how qualified, aren’t going to be able to attend such schools. The rest of them would, indeed, have to live in la la land if they wanted to pay for college with a part-time job.

      Although I must say, your eloquence nearly persuaded me. I believe it was Aristotle who first noted the rhetorical power of the word “dumbass.”

  2. November 14, 2011 at 10:51 am

    Perhaps students who can only make minimum wage shouldn’t be going to such expensive schools…

    I think Newt’s point is that there are too many students who take on tens of thousands of dollars in school loans with little to no thought about how they are going to pay those loans back some day. I agree. Requiring student loan acceptees to work a part time job would hopefully help those students better understand the value of money and help them make better decisions about financing their education.

    • Administrator
      November 16, 2011 at 7:40 pm

      Well, Newt mentioned work study jobs in particular, and many of those jobs only pay minimum wage – so that was his own criteria, not mine. Furthermore, not every one who qualifies for a work study job is able to get one – they are limited by what the school can offer, and it’s a competitive process. Of course, people can also work off campus, which I did as well, but the job market is particularly grim right now, and, in any case, there isn’t much an 18-year old can do part-time that pays much more than minimum wage – that’s why that person is in college – to get those skills and added earning power.

      There seems to be a complete lack of understanding here on exactly how expensive colleges, even public ones, are. It is absurd to think that the average student could pay full-time tuition along with room, board, and other expenses, with only a part-time job. There also seems to be some sense of resentment that students from poor or working-class backgrounds – students whom, incidentally, tend to know the value of money all too well – dare to go to certain types of colleges. The fact of the matter is, not all colleges are created equal, and some, particularly elite institutions, offer many more opportunities both while the student is enrolled and beyond.

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