By Wiha Powell
Most Americans view higher education as the key to social advancement and the ticket to a middle class lifestyle. However, in this current economic downturn, the rising cost of college is putting higher education out of the reach of many Americans. According to the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center, the cost of the average public four-year college education has doubled in the last decade, and is rising faster than the cost of the average private four-year college education. In their 2011-12 report, the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center stated that over the decade from 2001-2011, published tuition and fees for public four-year colleges and universities have increased at an average rate of 5.6 percent per year beyond the rate of general inflation. Moreover, the report stated that for 2011 in-state tuition and fees for public four-year and public two-year universities had increased by 21 percent and 37 percent respectively.
Universities are claiming that the increase in college tuition is a reflection of the weak economy and states’ funding which have failed to keep up with the growth in college enrollment, causing the tuition cost for four-year public universities to be higher than the increase in cost of private universities.
Nevertheless, with the cost of college education increasing faster than the median household income, it is greatly affecting lower and middle class families, leaving many without a college education. Moreover, the amount of financial aid available to students has been impractical, since the maximum government subsidized student loan has remained at $23,000 for over a decade for a four-year education. With such a great disparity between income and the rising cost of tuition, families are either shortchanging their retirement fund to send their children to college or are cutting down on their children’s college education experience by opting for them to attain a two-year degree rather than a four- year one. Regardless of the choice, there is great sacrifice now more than ever in sending one’s child to college.
On the other hand, there are those students who fund their own education and are graduating with a considerable amount of debt. Over the past years, the outstanding student loan debt is approximately in excess of $1 trillion, which exceeds national credit card debt. On average, students graduating from a public university are about $25,500 in debt with an even higher figure for those graduating from private universities. This high debt figure coupled with an already high unemployment rate and low starting salary makes it very difficult for students to repay their loans. Moreover, with the accumulation of late fees and interests on student loan debts, it is becoming a deadly financial medium– worst than the mortgage crisis. With so many students, owing more than what their degree is worth, and losing the capability of repaying their student loan debt, the financial bubble of student loan debt will inevitably burst.
As a solution, the Obama Administration recently announced that they are implementing new programs that will ease the repayment of student loans by changing the income based repayment program for the upcoming year to allow lower monthly payments and shorter durations for low-income borrowers as well as offering a slight lower interest rate for borrowers who consolidate their loans. In addition, in 2009 the Obama Administration increased the funding of the federal Pell Grant Program and tied annual increases to the Consumer Price Index in order to increase grant aid each year.
These solutions, however, do not address the issue of college education affordability. It is time the federal and state government work with universities on limiting the drastic, continuous increases in college tuition in order to avoid the impending ‘bubble’ from bursting. Without such intervention, such increase will eventually result in the next financial catastrophe.
It is apparent that with the mounting cost of college education the stakes and the warning signs of a serious crisis are also increasing. The day of reckoning for higher education is drawing near, and if our leaders continue to ignore the warnings signs allowing the cost of college to keep rising, this will undoubtedly results in higher education being farfetched for many Americans.