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The College Problem: Is Higher Education Worth the Cost?

The United States is replete with universities and liberal arts colleges that students can choose to attend. In this generation, more and more people are enrolled in universities in comparison to previous eras. People know that they have the opportunity to receive higher education if they choose to seek it. The problem, unfortunately, is that the cost of colleges and universities is growing at an increasing rate every year. This means that many students simply cannot afford to attend the college of their choice or any college at all. It is necessary that the United States find a solution to this problem now, in order to avoid situations in the future where more students might not be able to afford college. Ultimately, the solution is to align the university rates with inflation rates and to make universities focus spending on educational purposes; the consequence is that more people will have the opportunity to attend universities in the future. To begin, it is imperative to detail the specific problems of rising higher education costs and the agents that are causing these issues. Once people have a clear understanding of the problem, they can move more swiftly to solve it. The simple fact is, from 20022007, the average cost of in-state tuition and fees at public colleges has jumped 35% (Block). Note that the percentage is taken over only a five-year span, and it is adjusted for inflation. Speaking of inflation, in the past five years, college costs continued to rise faster than inflation, even though financial aid declined (Block). Because rates of attending college surpass the rate of inflation, one can argue that colleges are essentially gouging the students. Even if we disregard inflation rates, In the past 25 years, the average cost of tuition and fees has risen faster than personal income, consumer prices and even health insurance (Block). It is unrealistic to expect parents to pay for their

childrens education when the cost of tuition is surpassing their income. Problems naturally result in the forms of either enormous debt or the simple lack of a quality education when students are not able to attend a university because of cost. Patrick Callan, the president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, observes, the level of debt were asking people to undertake is unsustainable (Lewin). The purpose of attending a university is to improve a students skill sets and knowledge so that he or she may be successful in the future. By digging massive holes for students in the form of debt, universities are essentially hurting the very people they are supposed to be helping. Before I propose a solution, it is important to recognize that universities do not need to have these high rates. Rather, in many cases, institutions raise rates in order to maintain prestige: many schools spend heavily on state-of-the-art dorms, athletic facilities and well-known professors, analysts say (Block). It is true that a lot of this spending is occurring at private schools with enormous endowments; however, it tends to create a Darwinian culture that filters down to smaller and state schools, too (Block). From the previous illustrations, it can be seen that universities are causing the problem of an expensive college education and are doing little to correct it. Therefore, it is essential to propose a solution that will result in the best possible consequences. Fundamentally, the solution is made of three parts: aligning rate increases with the rate of inflation, cutting unnecessary spending, and directing financial aid to where it is actually needed. Of course, it is very difficult to determine exactly how much tuition rates should increase. Thus, the inflation rate can serve as a measuring stick to ensure that the cost of higher education stays reasonable. Universities must attempt to align their rates with the rate of inflation if they hope to continue having students enroll in their

classes. Then, students would at least have a realistic expectation of how much they would need to pay for their education. There would not be conflicts such as the thirty-two percent undergraduate tuition hike at the University of California schools that led to shows of defiance and protest (Duke). The tuition rates would be much more stable, leading to less anxiety for both parents and students. Secondly, universities simply need to focus on cutting costs from unnecessary facilities and programs. If they put this plan into action, they can then afford to lessen their annual tuition increases. The fact is that colleges simply place too much money in the wrong places; many education experts said colleges must do a better job of cutting costs (Lewin). For example, institutions may want to invest enormous resources to build a new lab for a chemistry professor because he's getting offers from other institutions (Block). This is just a single instance of a university overestimating the value of prestige. Jane Wellman, an analyst of the costs of secondary education explains that colleges should not only be seeking to cut their budgets, but also be looking for ways to permanently restructure (Lewin). Restructuring allows colleges to better prepare their cost forecasts for future years. Currently, universities have shifted their spending toward expensive research, administration and student services like residences, and student centers (Berman). Once institutions begin to cut their exorbitant spending in these areas, they will require less money from the students, thereby decreasing tuition rates. Thirdly, a move that would help many families deal with high costs of secondary education is to direct financial aid to the people who actually need it. Currently, public colleges are using such a large share of their financial aid resources for so-called merit

aid in these tough times (Lewin). Basically, this means that students in dire financial situations are not receiving the aid that they need. There exists another problem with financial aid: the application process can sometimes be difficult and hampering. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is so complicated that a lot of people just get discouraged and don't bother to fill it out (Block). As a result, financial aid tends to go to families who understand the process, not those with the greatest need (Block). Ultimately, it is the job of the federal government and the universities to make the application process easier and more geared toward families who are truly need the aid. If the aforementioned solutions are in fact implemented, it is necessary to analyze the consequences that they entail. In the best-case scenario, the solutions are successful and more students will be able to attend four-year universities. Aligning tuition increase rates with inflation rates will give families the ability to better plan for their childrens education. Cutting funds from unessential portions of the budget will allow universities to focus more on education and perhaps assist students to become more successful in the classroom. Finally, reforming financial aid will allow the poor and the middle class to better compete with the rich in terms of enrolling in universities. In the worst-case scenario, the solutions do not work due to an unwillingness of universities to change the status quo. As a result, students will be forced to continue paying higher rates every year, and many will not even be able to afford secondary education. The most realistic consequence will likely fall somewhere in the middle; some universities will implement these solutions and benefit the students while others will resist and continue with their current financial requirements.

In the end, while these solutions may appear relatively straightforward, it would take years to implement them. Reforming cost requirements for universities would need to be a long-term process many institutions would need to look at their costs and see what they can afford to lose. Hopefully, though, universities will understand the needs of the students and make higher education affordable to all that seek it.

Works Cited Berman, Talia. "Student Debt Crisis: Are There Any Solutions?" WireTap Magazine. 23 Aug. 2006. Web. 1 Dec. 2009. <http://www.wiretapmag.org/stories/40187/>. Block, Sandra. "Rising costs make climb to higher education steeper." USA Today. Garnett Co. Inc., 12 Jan. 2007. Web. 1 Dec. 2009. <http://www.usatoday.com/money/perfi/college/2007-01-12-college-tuitionusat_x.htm>. Duke, Alan. "University of California students protest 32 percent tuition increase." CNN. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., 19 Nov. 2009. Web. 1 Dec. 2009. < http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/11/19/california.tuition.protests/index.html>. Lewin, Tamar. "College Costs Keep Rising, Report Says." The New York Times. 20 Oct. 2009. Web. 1 Dec. 2009. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/21/education/21costs.html>.