In light of coverage of the Duke-enrolled porn actress, a colleague asked me: Given rising tuition and falling adult film wages, can a part-time job in pornography actually pay for a Duke education?

First, the cost: The sticker price of a Duke education is $61,404, about what the Duke student (who goes by Belle Knox) has suggested she pays.

Now, the earnings: Ms. Knox has not, as far as I’ve seen, disclosed her porn-related earnings. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not publish data on adult film stars.

But an industry agent told The Daily Beast last year that the average annual income for female performers was about $40,000-$50,000; in an earlier interview with the Hollywood Reporter, he had estimated that a decade ago they earned about double that. (The pornography industry, like other media sectors, has faced business model challenges in the digital age.) When I contacted the Free Speech Coalition, an industry group, spokeswoman Joanne Cachapero e-mailed me rules of thumb for the earnings of female adult film performers:

  • Female performers always get paid more than male performers, with rare exception
  • A girl that is in-demand, at the height of her earning potential can make between $80,000-$120,000 annually
  • Streams of revenue include film work, cam shows, dancing engagements & personal appearances, product (sex toy) endorsements & merchandise.
  • Per scene rates will vary by hi or lo-end producers; the type of scene (girl/girl, girl/boy, girl/girl/boy); the type of sex…and also by the prominence of the performer

Presumably, these figures primarily apply to women who are pursuing full-time adult film careers, not just moonlighting during school breaks. Even so, these look like decent earnings, to say the least. Contrast this income tier with that from a previous job Ms. Knox said she held in high school, when she raked in “$400 a month after taxes” as a minimum-wage waitress.

Catherine Rampell is an opinion columnist at The Washington Post.