Paying Your Own Way Through College

One college student just wrote about book about how he saved money in college. In Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships or Mooching Off My Parents , Zac Bissonnette writes about how he paid for college himself. In an interview with the New York Times’s Jacques Steinberg University of Massachusetts senior Bissonnette explains:

Tuition and fees and room and board at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, run $20,545 per year for a Massachusetts resident (like me) … Most families qualify for a $2,500 tax credit on the first $4,000 in college expenses. So that $20,545 becomes $18,045.

I worked multiple jobs throughout high school so I personally had about $35,000 in savings entering college because I was obsessive about it.

$18,045 per year means that you need to come up with $347 per week… which means that families that qualify for no financial aid can come up with $173.50 from the kid working and the same from mom and dad — which is doable.

The comments section in this article is particularly interesting, with many questioning the assumptions of the book’s author. What went unaddressed here is actually fairly crucial to Bissonnette’s (admittedly very impressive) ability to pay his own way through college.

The scrimping and saving and working extra jobs (“for me, that meant working at a theater and selling books on eBay,” Bissonnette says cheerfully) are certainly important, but the number one factor in Bissonnette’s ability to pay his own way through college was the inexpensive tuition at the University of Massachusetts relative to the state’s median income.

In fact, prior to the 1970s, it actually used to be very common for students to pay their own tuition. It’s only the exceptional increase in college pricing that has made this so difficult, that has made the story of a student who did so worthy of a book deal.

It’s only the relatively low cost of his college that made Bissonnette’s plan work. If he went to school like NYU (where student loans apparently total some$659 million) he could sell books on eBay until he went blind and still barely make a dent in his payments for tuition and room and board.

Lots of people worry about how to pay for college. The thing that matters most, however, is where one goes to college, and how much it costs.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer