Wes Blanton didn’t expect to be broke so fast.
The rising sophomore at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville has worked at AT&T Field for the last five summers, but the bulk of the money he earned for his freshman year — about $1,200 — was gone by Thanksgiving.
“I was surprised by how expensive it was and how quickly I ran out,” he says.
Birthday and Christmas money carried him through to the end of the year, he says, and this summer he took a second job at Chattanooga Golf and Country to earn extra money for school.
Summers traditionally have been a time for students to work like crazy, gathering up money like squirrels gathering nuts for winter. Unlike squirrels, however, many students are finding that they’re not scooping up enough cash to last. With the cost of going to college climbing dramatically, students are finding it harder to make enough over the summer to even cover movie money, much less tuition.
Years ago, a student could make enough over the summer to pay for most, if not all, of school, but tuition costs have risen dramatically in recent years.
Even at Dalton State College, one of the least expensive colleges in the country, the numbers don’t add up, according to Linda Massey in the school’s public relations and marketing department. A student taking 12 hours a semester would pay $3326.48 in tuition and fees for two semesters. Working 40 hours a week at $7.25, the minimum wage in Georgia, a student would only earn $2,900 over the 10-week summer, leaving a $400 hole before books, living expenses and other costs are added in, Massey notes.
Wes Blanton’s brother, Alexander, is entering his senior year at UT, and offers some simple advice to new students.
“Save as much as you can. You never know what you will need it for, or when.”
The task can be even tougher for students who land summer internships as a way to get a foot in the door for future employment. Internships don’t traditionally pay a lot and, in these days of rocky economy, many companies are turning to unpaid internships — all the work for none of the pay.
The squeeze can be especially tight for some middle-class students who find themselves in a financial sandwich: Their family incomes are too high for them to get financial aid but too low to pay much for schooling costs.
These days, scholarships, grants, mom and dad and loans pay for the bulk of tuition, room and board.
When Nick Chambers begins his college career in a few weeks at Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis, he will have a nest egg of about $3,000 to help pay for his first year of higher education. Money from a baseball scholarship also will help.
Chambers says his mother and her new husband sat him down four years ago and explained that he would need to do whatever he could to pay for his college, so he spent the last four summers umpiring baseball games all over town, and he worked for three summers at Hunter Oil in Chattanooga. Like most college students today, he’s finding out that summer jobs provide enough money for the extras that come along at school, but hardly come close to covering the full amount.
“I’m lucky,” he says, “I have a family member to help with living expenses, so I won’t have to take out a student loan.”
In Tennessee, state funding for higher education has dropped since 2009, and tuition has increased 44 percent between 2008-09 and the coming fall. It has gone up about 70 percent since 2007 at the University of Georgia, Georgia State University and the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Ruthie Rudnick managed to land four internships during her time at the University of Central Florida. Three, including the current six-month stint at AC Entertainment in Knoxville, have been paid.
She graduated from UCF last May with a degree in event management and plans to work in the entertainment industry. Part of her degree requirements were that she do three semesters interning with an events company, so she did a year with Walt Disney World, then shorter stints with Orlando Calling, a music festival, then Campus MovieFest, an independent short film festival for students held at campuses all over the country.
There was no way she would have been able to afford an unpaid internship, she says.
“I support myself, so I had to do a lot of groundwork to find a paid internship,” she says. “I could not have afforded to go to New York and intern at MTV or something like that.”
She says she has used each interning experience to work on a different skill set.
“Every one is like a piece of the puzzle,” she says.
At Disney, for example, she learned that she didn’t want to work at a theme park. At AC, she is focused on developing management and leadership skills.
“Here, I’m looking for what I need to do after getting the job,” she says.
Internships are a big part of the Communication Department at UTC, according to professor and department head Betsy Alderman. Both paid and unpaid internships are offered as classes every semester and in the summer. Students must put in 150 hours to receive a letter grade and 3 hours credit, and they have to produce a portfolio of their work.
“We are one of the few departments on campus that require them,” she says. “In fact, we are [also] pushing our students out to do unpaid, non-credit internships because we want them to get the experience. In the communications profession, experience is key. We find that our students are not competitive in the job market if they don’t have professional experience.”
Alderman says many of her students work two and three jobs to make everything work.
Contact staff writer Barry Courter at bcourter @timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...