COLUMN: Higher education: A euphemism for debt
A fresh take
Published: Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 22:10
America’s priorities are out of order. It seems that every year, government officials voice the need for a better education system. This cannot be ignored, and every year it seems to be pushed down on the list of priorities. A lot of people point to low teacher wages, poor quality elementary and high school classes or facilities as the biggest issues with education, but the issue with the biggest effect on America as a whole is the growing price of college tuition.
Paying for college is nearly the only thing that I’m working toward right now, other than trying to keep up in my classes.
Paying for college doesn’t always seem like a huge problem, but then I realize the true costs and trade-offs that come with it. Working is very important to me because that’s how I pay for school, but it’s funny how going to school and working plays out — I want to work as much as possible so I can pay for school, but I also want to have time to actually attend class, do well and succeed. By giving up hours of work, I get better grades, but I also can’t afford to pay for my next semester.
It’s a lose-lose situation; I either end up doing poorly in school or not having the funds to continue. It seems nearly impossible. If tuition prices would remain steady for the next few years, student wages might be able to catch up, making attending college more desirable and more achievable.
Every year when my mom and I talk about school she asks, “Is that really how much tuition costs now?” She insinuates that the cost of tuition has nearly tripled since the last time she checked, but the funny thing is that she isn’t too far off.
According to the Institute of Education Sciences, the cost of four-year institutions has increased by nearly 700 percent since 1980. A $3,500 four-year degree in 1980 would cost roughly $22,000 today. The rate of increase in tuition is still not justified after factoring in inflation — according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, $1 in 1980 is worth about $2.83 in 2013. That’s a 283 percent increase. Looking at the price of tuition then and accounting for inflation, college tuition should cost around $10,000 today — how nice would that be?
If wages had increased at the same rate, this would be less of a problem, but according to an article in The New York Times, the minimum wage today is, accounting for inflation, less than it was 50 years ago.
When considering these factors, it seems impossible for college students to keep up with tuition without having to take out loans. You could even argue receiving a higher education could be the start of a lifetime of debt. According to The Project on Student Debt, 2/3 of college seniors who graduated in 2011 had student loan debt with an average of $26,000 per borrower.
The ever-increasing price of tuition acts as an incentive not to attend college. Considering our current need for educated people, I think this disincentive needs to be eliminated. I propose that new regulations be set that limit colleges and universities to a certain percentage of tuition increase each year. By doing this, we push schools to reallocate their resources to their most valued uses and to be more frugal, as well as getting students closer to achieving a higher quality, debt-free future.
– Kelli Reeder is a junior majoring in economics from Logan, Utah, who hates paying massive dollar amounts for a decent education. She is also an administrative assistant for a local non-profit.