By Rebekah Devorak / Opinions Editor
It’s no shock to college students – or really anyone for that matter – that college is expensive.
Very, very expensive.
Tuition, along with room and board fees, has risen faster than the rate of inflation in the United States since 2009, according to The College Board. That translated to an average 21 percent increase in tuition and fees from 2004 to 2009 and a 17 percent increase from 2010 to 2015.
Without scholarships, grants, a decent job or financial help from family members and friends, it is practically impossible to graduate debt-free. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways of cutting down the costs to make college more affordable; those ways just might be a little unorthodox.
Joel Weber, a student at the University of Texas, decided last academic year that he needed to make a big change in the way that he was living if he wanted to graduate debt-free. Rather than continue paying upwards of $800 a month for rent near his school in Austin, Weber built a tiny house for himself.
Weber’s house is a 145-square-foot trailer fully equipped with a kitchen, two lofts, plumbing and electricity. Most dorm rooms are approximately 228 square feet, which, split among two roommates, doesn’t leave much space.
Weber’s house cost only $20,000, and he lives mortgage free with very few utility costs.
By comparison, living on campus at Duquesne can cost anywhere between $10,188 to $21,700 for the academic year, according to 2015-2016 rates. For four years, that’s nearly $40,000 to $80,000, or double to quadruple what Weber’s house cost. Average rates across the country for 2014-2015 room and board were not that far off from Duquesne’s, with private colleges ringing in at approximately $11,000 a year and public colleges at nearly $10,000.
Here’s another kicker: According to Bloomberg Business, Austin is one of the most affordable cities in the United States when it comes to rent. If there are some students who find it difficult to afford living in a supposedly “affordable” city, what does that mean for students across the rest of the country? A quick Google search for apartments in Pittsburgh shows that the rent is over $100 more per month than what Weber was paying.
Hypothetically renting a one bedroom apartment in Pittsburgh for $900 a month for the academic school year would be $7,200, not including utilities. That’s $28,800 for four years, nearly $10,000 over what a tiny house could cost. In addition, there’s no return on the investment; renters obviously can’t keep the place that they are renting.
With the right conditions (the student has a piece of land available for building a tiny house near Duquesne, or wherever they want to attend school), tiny houses can provide some serious financial relief to struggling students or recent graduates. The Wall Street Journal states that the average college debt for 2015 graduates is now over $35,000. A report from April 2015 from the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows that the average liberal arts graduate makes just over $36,000 right out of school. That’s only a little bit of money that needs to stretch in a whole bunch of different directions: loans, food, rent, utilities, etc. A tiny house cuts one, if not two, of those categories out of the equation.
A tiny house isn’t practical for everyone. It would certainly be an adventure to downsize from a comfortably-sized bedroom to an entire house the size of a half-bath, but it isn’t as crazy as it sounds when compared to the standard dorm room today. Technically, the student is getting more space (and more privacy) for less money.
If nothing else, Weber’s creativity shows students that there are always other options when it comes to making an affordable higher education possible. While it doesn’t appear that college tuition or living costs will take a downturn any time soon, it was Plato who said “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
It will be interesting to see what that next invention will be.