mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Here’s One Way to Save on College Costs: Live in a Van

As Congress and student advocates debate the failings of federal student loans, one grad student may have discovered the fastest way to drive down student debt: living in a van.

Newly liberated from his undergraduate debt and faced with paying over $10,000 for living expenses at grad school, Ken Ilgunas chose instead to turn his van into a home. He writes in the New York Times:

I was nearly broke, and the prospect of taking out loans was unthinkable. Going back into debt made about as much sense as running out of a burning building just to run into another.

The van-dwelling lifestyle, I figured, would eliminate many of the costs. For Internet and electricity, I’d use the library. For showers, I’d buy a cheap campus gym membership. For food, I’d cook my own meals. For rent, well, I wouldn’t have any rent. For dates, well, I probably wouldn’t have any of them, either.

Ilgunas touches on an important point. Though tuition costs have skyrocketed in recent years, much of the financial burden of college actually comes from the other “costs of attending”: housing, meal plans, fees, and so on. Often this is by design, as schools look to disguise price hikes by calling them “fees.” This is borne out in the data: While average in-state tuition at a public university is $8,655, the average cost of attending is $22,261. The jump is similar for private universities.

We certainly hope most students don’t follow Ilgunas’ example (if only to prevent the odors he describes as a result of that lifestyle), but an average student loan debt of more than $24,000 is enough to make one or two young scholars consider it.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Anthony

    I really admire this guy. He must really love the liberal arts if he is willing to put up with this kind of hardship to obtain an economical education.

    • Matthew Schultz

      Some people are stuck in that career path. Once a person goes toward liberal arts, who’s going to hire him outside of education or academia? No one in this market–which demands employees with years of experience or relevant degrees. Even if he wanted a low-paying job, he would be rejected because he has a degree–a hiring manager will assume he will leave at the first sign of a better job.

  • Anthony

    Vignettes and personal narratives do not portend what they are taken to portend owing to individual circumstances and choices. But, we can all agree that college costs leave much to desire.

  • Bruno_Behrend

    College is rapidly becoming a waste of money.

    Don’t live in a van, learn on the web.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service