How to combat inflated college costs

(Originally from the October issue of TFF, published Oct 12, 2015.)

by Gabi TedeschiCopy Editor

It is an unsettling paradox: College fees are skyrocketing far beyond the rate of inflation with the average cost per year exceeding 15,000 dollars. Student debt now amasses to more than a trillion dollars, and yet, a college education is almost mandatory in today’s job climate.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, as of 2013, Americans with four year college degrees make on average 98% more per hour than those without. Additionally, there are fewer jobs today than in the past that do not require degrees. As technology continues to transform the job market, eliminating the need for human labor, the number of labor jobs will continue to decrease.

This issue, though perhaps most frightening to 18 year olds contemplating their future, affects the entire nation. If today’s jobs require college educations and many cannot obtain them, employers may fail to fill positions. So, how do we address the fact that America needs college degrees, but for many, they are almost unattainable? The issue of inaccessible higher education must be addressed by more than potential students.

More aid and scholarships are available for lower income families than one might expect. The U.S. Department of Education distributes around 150 million dollars of grants, low-interest loans and work-study funds. Sadly, those who need aid most often do not receive the assistance they need for applications and financial planning.

Prestigious private schools often have students meet with counselors regularly to prepare for college, which though helpful, is almost unnecessary as parents who can afford to send their children to private schools generally have the money and know-how needed to send students to top colleges. Programs should be implemented at public schools, particularly those in low income areas that allow students to discuss options and make plans with their counselors as early as their freshmen year of high school.

Of course, plenty of students who need aid do not qualify for it. Colleges need to do more there as well. New, fancy, arguably unnecessary amenities like gyms, sports complexes and study abroad programs have contributed to the tuition climb. Student union buildings and new, luxury dorms resembling country clubs and hotels are perhaps superfluous. If necessary, students who use these facilities and programs should contribute or pay a fee so that the costs of these are not taxed onto general tuition.

At first glance, it seems that this would put certain amenities out of the reach of students who are not as wealthy, but when the prices for amenities drive up tuition, college is put out of the reach of these students. Whether or not they can afford to study abroad becomes irrelevant.

Additionally, colleges and universities need to learn to put students first. Rising faculty salaries and an increase in the number of faculty members hired have contributed to high tuition. For example, the average salary for upper level administrative positions at public universities rose 39 percent in a decade and the number of university administrative positions rose 369 percent from 1978 to 2014. Though administrators are needed and deserve fair compensation, it seems that this hike in positions and salary is extreme.

Meanwhile, the multi-million dollar salaries of coaches at major athletic conference universities could cover tuition for hundreds of students. Nick Saban, the University of Alabama football coach and the highest paid coach in the NCAAF, receives close to 7 million dollars from the school a year, which equals what it costs for 700 students to attend the University of Alabama. Offering a gigantic salary may be what is required to secure a winning coach, but universities should not prioritize winning championships over giving more of our nation’s youth the opportunity to succeed. Also, though college football draws in lots of money, the coach is not the only one doing the work. More student athletes should receive compensation in the form of scholarships.

College tuition has risen unacceptably. The United States prides itself on being a land of opportunity where everyone has a chance at upward mobility, but today, when a college degree is both so important and so expensive, the nation is not living up to its promise. Both colleges and the schools that send students to college have a responsible to help them earn the degree that they so desperately need to be successful in today’s post-industrial economy.

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