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The high cost of higher education

ellenopinionsWhen was the last time you were stressed about money? I’m going to guess it was within the past week — maybe even the past 24 hours. According to the “International Business Times,” 60 percent of students are stressed about not having enough money for school and 30 percent are stressed about paying monthly expenses.

When our parents were in school, being a “broke college student” was expected, much like it is now. It wasn’t unusual, and it wasn’t considered to be a bad thing— in fact, it was said to build character. Older generations often say, “I remember being a broke college student,” or, “I paid my own way through college!” They talk about how they lived in the dumpiest apartment and ate ramen noodles or popcorn for dinner every night. But, our version of “broke college student” is much different than theirs. It used to be difficult, but manageable, to put yourself through college without help from parents, relatives or the bank. But, because of the rise in tuition and the stagnation of the minimum wage, this is no longer the case. Since it’s no longer feasible for us to make enough money to pay for our own education, our “broke college student” experience follows us far into adulthood.

Believe it or not, in 1982, the comprehensive fees to attend Concordia College totaled up to $6,450. Before you get too riled up, we need to account for inflation. Back in 1982, $100 was equal to about $249 today. So, in today’s economy, those Concordia students back in 1982 were paying the equivalent of $16,060 per year. While that is certainly a lot of money, it’s nowhere near today’s cost of attendance, which has been steadily rising and currently sits at $44,688 — excluding living expenses, books and transportation. That’s almost three times more expensive than what it was in 1982.

Perhaps what is most appalling is that while the cost of education has climbed each year, wages have not. Minimum wage laws vary from job to job and state to state, but for a college-level summer job in Minnesota, the minimum wage has hovered at $7.75 per hour. In 1982, with inflation factored in, minimum wage was the equivalent of around $8.34. This means we’re making less money on average than college students were in 1982 — yet, we have to pay thousands more in tuition.

This doesn’t even consider the fact that the few thousand dollars that a college student makes in a summer is often barely enough to cover personal living expenses throughout the year. For someone who goes to Concordia and pays the full tuition through loans, he or she will graduate with about $178,752 in debt. That’s a crushing blow — especially if you’re planning to spend more money on graduate school. Even if you decide to get out into the workforce right away, your starting salary likely isn’t going to leave you with much room to pay off those debts. Scholarships are helpful, but not that helpful. A student with a Presidential Distinction Scholarship, one of Concordia’s largest scholarship awards, would still graduate $110,752 in debt if he or she relied solely on the bank for assistance. Similar to wages, when tuition increases, scholarship awards do not.

This is pretty outrageous. In an age where everyone is encouraged to get a decent education, we’re making it nearly impossible for certain populations to actually achieve that expectation. And, in some cases, an education comes with an even bigger price. It’s not unheard of for people with outstanding amounts of student loans to be denied credit cards. Author and credit expert Beverly Harzog told The Washington Post, “People with big student-loan bills may have a hard time being approved for cards because lenders may worry that their income is not high enough for them to cover their debt payments and other bills.” Granted, there are other ways to earn credit, such as making rent and loan payments on time, but we shouldn’t be putting students in this situation to begin with.

To Concordia’s credit, there has been an effort to raise costs as little as possible. Out of all of Minnesota’s private colleges, Concordia’s tuition comes in 12th out of 17 colleges, and we’re below the $47,862 average. Not to mention, there is an abundance of scholarship and work-study opportunities to help curb the costs. While this is certainly beneficial, there is no realistic way to earn enough money to even make a dent in the inevitable debt. This problem isn’t going to disappear overnight. It comes down to the leaders of our government. It comes down to how they view education — to how they answer the following question: Does everyone deserve the opportunity to receive a higher education, or should it be reserved for the upper and middle classes and those willing to bear the staggering weight of debt?

It would be very difficult to make college free while upholding the same quality of education. Substantial grants from the government would at least lower the cost of tuition, as is predicted in Hillary Clinton’s plan, which suggests raising taxes on certain tax brackets in order to make college more accessible for everyone. While this plan is by no means kink-free, it’s a start. It’s an acknowledgement that we are paying too much as it is, and that certain groups lack the opportunities that privilege has granted many of us. While there are definitely pros and cons to raising the minimum wage, it would provide some relief to those trying to pay their own way through school. But, change is what it comes down to — a change that allows tuition costs to be addressed as one of our biggest, most critical issues as a nation. After all, no one should be denied an education and, by default, the chance to make a decent living.

One Comment

  1. Anonymous C Anonymous C October 13, 2016

    Recent studies have shown that something like 90% of non inflation related raised in collew tuition have been commensurate with the level of subsidy (grants / loans) a college receives. This is peer reviewed fact. What makes us think MORE subsidization will make the situation better? The real price of education is completely miff, the market has no sense of actual cost because subsidy has destroyed the supply and demand curve. Its economically artificial and it’s no surprise students graduate and cant find good enough jobs. The fact is, there arent enough jobs that actually require a college degree, yet the supply of people with college degrees is higher than market demand. This lowers marginal wages, especially for those with non specific or liberal arts type degrees. Its economics 101. Subsidy will only make this worse.

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