Increasing Costs of Higher Education Essay

In the society of the United States, students are expected to follow the typical path of day care, grade school, middle school, high school and hopefully college. Growing up in America today, the importance of education is stressed starting at the earliest stages of development. In a world with a competitive job market and with citizens who want to make the most money that they can, a college education is the key to success. For some students, financing college is not a problem.

Money should not be a factor in the student’s decision-making process when choosing what school to attend, but unfortunately many people are unable to attend the university of their choice due to high tuition costs. Working through college is not always the best answer because this may have a negative effect on academic performance with the added stress. It is true that financial aid and loans are available, but it is sometimes much harder to take advantage of these than people realize.

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Although universities offer many forms of aid in paying for college, the continually increasing prices still make it impossible for many people to afford higher education, and lowering prices would be effective in increasing the amount of people able to obtain a college degree. The average income for middle class families is an estimated $49,500. This is barely more than just the tuition of many colleges, not including services such as room and board, food, books, etc… This situation makes it nearly impossible for a family to afford college.

The price of tuition continues to rise faster than most families’ incomes. In the future, this situation is only going to become more severe, allowing even fewer people to get a college education. Each year fewer students are able to attend college because of their inability to pay. This is unfair, and a situation that our country needs to change. College tuition is increasing faster than people’s incomes, and this places limits on many people’s abilities to attend and pay for college. There is substantial evidence that college tuition is continuing to rise across the country.

An article in the New York Times showed, “Total expenses – including tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation and other expenses – now average $15,566 for an undergraduate student attending a public university in his/her own state,” which has significantly increased from recent years (Collegeboard). Also, “Most students and their families can expect to pay, on average, from $167 to $1,132 more than last year for this year’s tuition and fees, depending on the type of college,” which makes it difficult when a family barely has the money to afford the expenses in the first place (Collegeboard).

According to research done by Collegeboard, in the twenty years from 1976 to 1996, the average tuition at public universities increased from $642 up to $3,151. This is a very significant increase and a large sum of money for most anyone in today’s society to pay. All students have the right to know what their tuition money is going toward and why prices are increasing more quickly than overall inflation (Collegeboard). It could be assumed by the average onlooker that prices are increasing because of finances needed to fund the institution are also increasing.

If this is the case then there should be documentation of these increases but, “academic institutions have made little effort either on or off campus to make themselves transparent to explain their finances,” (Collegeboard). There is no documentation that describes what every penny of tuition pays for. It is only stated that it goes toward “administrative costs, faculty salaries, technology, Federal regulation, endowment, State appropriations,” (Collegeboard).

But why are the costs rising? Patrick M. Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, states that “there’s not much going on in either private or public higher education that is very serious about cost control,” (Collegeboard). He believes that “Underlying all this is that more kids are graduating from high school every year, most of them want to go to college, and so it’s a seller’s market. Universities raise tuition because they can,”(Collegeboard).

This might give the impression that universities are simply tricking students out of their money, since academic institutions have not documented what these outlandish tuition prices are actually funding. In order to avoid confusion from students and parents who want answers, the government should require institutions to have documentation of what tuition is actually funding. Financial aid is a popular choice for students to fund their college education, which can cost an average of “$15,566 for an undergraduate student attending a public university in state, and $31,916 at a private university” (Collegeboard).

The financial aid process works like this: students and their families are obligated the pay the “Expected Family Contribution” (EFC) of their education based on a families income and other financial assets percentage of their fees. After determining the families EFC, FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) breaks down what is left into loans, grants, and work-study. All loans must be paid back whereas grants do not. Work-study is money given to students by the government for working on campus.

Even though most students do receive some form of federal financial aid in which two-thirds comes from the government, more than half comes in the form of loans that must be paid back by the student. During the 1990s, students attending four-year colleges had an average debt of $17,000 (Higher Education). Loans accounted for fifty-three percent of all financial aid in the 2001 academic year whereas grant money only accounted for forty percent (Higher Education). Although financial aid is helpful in providing funding, in some situations it is not enough and can deter students from attaining an education from the institution they desire.

In an example of financial aid distribution given by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, a student who has a choice between a school that costs $9,000 a year and a school that costs $20,000 a year both schools have the same EFC. The $20,000 school is going to provide more financial aid but it will more likely be in the form of loans and work-study. Students and parents have to decide if loans and more hours of work-study are appropriate to fund their education (Higher Education).

The Public Agenda website says “If one college meets your full financial need and another cannot, you must weigh the difference in affordability versus the attractiveness of the college for you. ” In today’s society, many students have the added stress of paying for their own tuition. When students at a public university were interviewed about this, they said that coming from a middle class family with average income, it was very difficult to be able to afford college, and that they should be able to pay lower prices without sacrificing the quality of their education.

They also felt that for the high price they were paying, they should be receiving more than what they were at their university (Meyerson 20). Many students who help pay their own tuition are forced to maintain jobs as well as keep up with their academic schedule. This can be very stressful for students, and often lead to poor academic performance. This can be very harmful because if students are forced to retake classes, then they will probably end up being forced to pay tuition for extra semesters.

These students do not have any other choice because they must have a way to pay for their education. Some negative effects of having a job while in school may include “lack of sleep, insufficient time to focus on course work, decreasing personal or social time, and conflicts with extracurricular activities” (Collegeboard). Having a job can actually be very damaging to a student’s education. When a student is constantly fatigued from working all the time and trying to stay up late to study, they will not be able to give their best effort when it comes to learning.

Even though a student might earn a passing grade, the student obviously did not learn what they were supposed to from the class, and learning is the part of college that is actually most important. When someone is exhausted, their brain does not function as effectively and they will not be learning to the best of their ability. If prices were lowered, students would be able to work less and put more effort into concentrating on learning, which is why they are attending college in the first place.

Although it often comes at a high price, a college degree has become very important in today’s society. In our society it has become much more difficult to make a decent living with only a high school diploma. Someone graduating with a Bachelor’s degree has been shown to make about twice as much, on average, as someone with only a high school diploma (How a College). Since going to college is essential for earning a good living, the cost of achieving this education needs to be reduced.

Research shows that “college graduates earn an average of one million more over their careers than high-school graduates,” showing that attending college can lead to a significantly larger income (Collegeboard). If prices were lowered, more people would be able to afford college, which would provide them with more opportunities to have a quality job, which could lead to lower unemployment rates. This situation, simply put, must be changed. If college tuition prices continue to rise, the problems of our country are only going to become worse.

If people cannot afford a college education, they will most likely not be able to get a good enough job to earn a good living. This is what needs to be done: The federal government should increase the number of federal grants to students, offer free or reduced tuition at state universities for high school students who maintain a certain GPA, and increase overall state spending on higher education. If some of these actions are taken, prices can be reduced, allowing for more students to obtain degrees, and therefore leading to a more successful society overall.