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Out-of-Control College Prices

American Colleges Should Be More Affordable

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

Affording education was never a concern in my family, only until I came to America in high school. With the exhausting process of college application, rising college costs only create an extra burden on students who wish to pursue higher education. According to a 20-year report from the US News, private college tuition and fees have increased around 40%, while out-of-state and in-state tuition and fees at public universities have increased around 38% and 56%, respectively. Without considering the effect of inflation, the percentages increase about threefold or higher. The national average cost of attending college for one school year, encompassing textbooks, supplies and daily living expenses, is $36,436 per student. Students attending private colleges spend an average total of $55,840 living on campus, $38,768 of which goes to tuition and fees. These numbers represent almost twice the average of college spending in other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations. To make education more accessible for a wider population, American colleges should not be as expensive.

Numerous colleges provide financial aid to low-income students, yet this system often overlooks middle-class students who fall into the gap of being too affluent for financial aid but too financially constrained to afford tuition. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is eligible for anyone to apply, but a maximum aid is only given to families that make less than $27,000. When middle-class students submit the form, they often receive substantially less or no aid at all, leaving student loans as their only option. To make matters worse, several changes to the application from the 2024-25 academic year will make college even more costly for middle-class families with additional costs for siblings and requirements for small business owners. Many claim college costs become more manageable due to financial aid; however, that statement only applies to selective individuals.

From taking intense courses and searching for internship positions to establishing an independent life, college students constantly face overwhelming demands and stress. A 2022 study by Gallup indicates 66% of college students experience stress, while 55% feel worried. One of the biggest stressors for college students is paying for college. According to Bankrate statistics, 46.3 million Americans have federal student debt and 54% of students graduate from their undergraduate studies with student loan debt. A huge amount of debt not only causes students to lose motivation to pursue higher education but also hinders wage growth. As a result, students can be stuck with frustration throughout college which leads to higher transfer or dropout rates. However, this could be fixed by making college more affordable and supporting students throughout their education.

Reducing college costs can not only help students but also benefit society as a whole. Rather than taking ordinary jobs, education will inspire people with their own lifelong goals for the world they live in. These visions, along with productivity and revolutionary breakthroughs, will promote economic growth. Furthermore, individual thoughts will contribute to higher political participation. Previously, it was widely believed that basic civic knowledge prompts political opinions; however, recent studies suggest higher education, whether directly or not, is linked to political participation. Therefore, it is crucial to make education more accessible to the American population so that more voices are represented in our democracy.

Some argue that lowering college costs could devalue the importance of a college education. That is, if access to college becomes ubiquitous, the perceived value of a college degree could diminish. Additionally, a decrease in the budget for colleges may lead to a decline in the overall quality of education provided. Nevertheless, the idea of opportunities for everyone still persists. Reducing college costs does not automatically imply that anyone will be accepted and can be accomplished without affecting the education itself by decreasing administrative costs. Moreover, enhancing public resources, such as online seminars, official platforms like the College Board and speaker sessions at schools addressing costs and diverse options for each family, can significantly contribute to making college more affordable without directly reducing tuition fees. In a society that upholds the importance of education and equal opportunities, addressing this issue requires more attention from institutions with significant influence, such as the government and educational bodies. Specifically,  the United States should draw inspiration from certain European countries that subsidize the majority of universities through taxes and prioritize education over amenities like sports centers. Shifting the perspective on education as a public rather than an individual mission can broaden opportunities for more students without placing the entire financial burden on students and their families.


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Andy Poll

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