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June 10 2016

Saving Your Way to College – the Exception, not the Norm

Patrice L. Onwuka

A Memphis teenager proves that anything is possible, including saving your way to college. Kevuntez King sold newspapers every Sunday for four straight years earning $200 each week and he put that money aside for college. Rain or shine, he made his way to the corner of a neighborhood block at 3:45 am – when some young people are just getting home from a Saturday night out.

The time for college has come. King, a three-sport athlete who earned a 4.0 GPA and holds the title of Prom King, was accepted to Tennessee State University (TSU). TSU is the only state-funded historically black college and it carries an in-state tuition of nearly $7,000 annually or about $30,000 for four years.

King, who grew up in a single-parent household, was taught the value of independence, hard work, and personal responsibility by his mother. With money tight at home, he didn’t want college to be an added expense for his mother. As he put it:

“She just taught me how to be independent like she had it, (and) she just wanted me to go get it myself,” he said.

“When it came down to school, my mom didn’t have to come out of pocket to do anything or I didn’t have to take out any loans to go to school,” he told WHBQ.

How did King persevere through the years? He gives anyone this advice:

“Make sure you surround yourself with people that’s trying to go up in life and not trying to bring you down. Just stay positive and always believe in yourself and push for it.”

King’s story is inspirational, but unfortunately, it’s also the exception.

It’s increasingly hard to save for college or to work through college. The cost of college has skyrocketed over the past 30 years – rising faster than the cost of food, gas, and shelter. Students are driven to seek federal aid in the form of loans. Double-digit unemployment and underemployment of millennials make it hard for students to repay those loans, especially if they don’t complete their degree.

The average student with loans graduated with over $35,000 in student loan debt. It’s the case as a recent report from Georgetown’s Center on Education finds that students can no longer work their way through college:

The average college student working full time at minimum wage earns $15,080 annually before taxes, the report estimates. "Working might eventually cover tuition at a two-year program," said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown center and the report's lead author. "But the earnings aren't sufficient to even get close to covering a private, four-year school." 

And as a young man of color from a single-parent home, the odds would be against King finishing his degree with no debt:

"Depending on how much you work and what the work entails, working has a real impact on whether you'll complete your education and how well you'll do," said Nicole Smith, chief economist at the Georgetown center and co-author of the report. "Disadvantaged students who go to college tend to be risk-averse, so they are much less likely to take out student loans and more likely to work longer hours. If you work longer hours, you're less focused on education. Then the student isn't able to graduate on time or, more often, the student just gives up and drops out of school." 

College should be more affordable and probably would be if more people market-tested their options, asking what is the worth, both culturally and financially, of a degree from a particular institution.  

Kudos to King for saving up the money to go to college. The discipline, persistence, and perseverance will only serve him well in college and afterwards in the workforce. That is an ethic that generally comes from a caring and responsible family. Many in our generation and rising generations would do well to learn it.

IIndependent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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