College Affordability: The Real Crisis in America

It takes no rocket scientist to figure out that soaring college tuition prices combined with a deteriorating economy and job market has made college affordability an important issue. The Federal government has been supplying programs with money for higher education for 60 years, and according to www. studentaid. ed. gov, Federal student aid accounted for $78 billion in new aid to students and their families last year (Terrell). So why do Americans feel as if a college education is as unaffordable as ever? There is no simple answer to this question but a combination of different issues surrounding college affordability.

The three most important issues that affect an individual’s ability to pay for a college education are college tuition, debt and financial aid. By addressing these issues we can only begin the process of making sure that people are aware of this crisis that can affect America’s future. One of the deciding factors in many students’ college choice is college tuition. How do colleges expect people to pay more than the average median income of a U. S. family? A study conducted by the Public Interest Research Group, showed that the average cost of tuition for one year at a private U.

S. college is about $31,000, a $15,000 increase from 5 years ago (Farrelly). To put the increase in perspective, household income, in the United States during this same period rose just 4 percent (Farrelly). The rise in college tuition is a big reason why it is harder in affording a college education. A report released by the National Center, “College Affordability in Jeopardy,” shows that private colleges continue to become less affordable for students and families (Report: college affordability in jeopardy).

At private four-year colleges and universities, 16 states have increased tuition and fees by more than 10 percent (Report: college affordability in jeopardy). Massachusetts led with the largest increase, at 24 percent, followed by Missouri, Iowa and Texas at 20 percent and North Carolina at 19 percent (Report: college affordability in jeopardy). Even at public colleges, where tuition should be less and more manageable, 10 states have increased tuition and fees by more than 10 percent (Report: college affordability in jeopardy).

South Carolina and Massachusetts led with the largest increase, at 26 percent, followed by New Hampshire and Arkansas at 17 percent, and then Washington and Indiana at 14 percent(Report: college affordability in jeopardy). However, many individuals provide the counterargument that the price of everything in the economy is rising so college tuition is no different and should be expected to rise. While that assumption may have some validity to it, my response to that argument would be that an increase of $15,000 in college tuition will probably pose a bigger problem than the increase of $1.

50 for a pound of oranges. It is very difficult for middle to low income families to come up with an extra $40,000-$50,000 for college while providing for the family. So the question that surfaces in everyone’s mind is why is tuition soaring? According to many economists, it’s because of declining external funding such as lagging state subsidies to public universities, insufficient government contributions, and investment income at private colleges. Schools also sometimes argue that higher tuition is for funding improvements in their facilities and curriculum. As a student, it is a balancing act on this issue.

I want new advances in the school facilities and better qualified teachers, but at the same time I do not want to pay $10,000 to $20,000 for it. I believe a sensible solution would be to limit all colleges to how much they spend on their expenses. It would make sure all colleges have a fair shot at improving their college while at the same time help limit the cost of attending that college. However, some of these new facilities and advances are not necessarily improving the college academically. Brand new basketball arenas and football fields do not translate into higher grades and graduation rates.

It is highly questionable whether college students are learning any more than they were decades ago even with new advanced “facilities. ”Regulation of money that is spent on facilities and academics should be enforced so that students can improve academically and get a better education. I believe the real reason for soaring college costs is a higher demand for colleges. When demand rises relative to supply, prices (in this case, tuition fees) go up. The rising college tuition issue needs to be readdressed and somehow supported more through grants and scholarships, so that it may be easier for students and families to afford college.

One of the consequences that result from the rising tuition costs in colleges is debt that accumulates from student loans. From a study conducted by the Public Interest Research Group found that the total amount of student debt in the U. S. is up to $440 billion (Terrell). The average debt for student loans has increased 50 percent in the last decade (Halliday). That same study found that nearly 40 percent of student borrowers leave school with what are considered to be “unmanageable” debt levels (Report: college affordability in jeopardy).

Their payments, in other words, amount to more than 8 percent of their monthly incomes (Report: college affordability in jeopardy). If something isn’t done about the cost of a college education, it’s going to have an impact on America’s future. In addition, debt has more of an impact than just on individuals in America. Student debt is outpacing the starting salaries of jobs in teaching and social work, which makes it virtually impossible for many debt-burdened graduates to pursue careers in fields where they are desperately needed (Cappannari).

Nearly one quarter of all graduates from public universities and almost 4 in 10 graduates from private universities have levels of student debt that would become unmanageable at the salaries of starting teachers (Cappannari). By making college less affordable and by making it accumulate high debt, people are shying away from professions that do not have a high starting salary thus affecting the economy and job market in a negative way. The unmanageable debt levels burdens American individuals and the country as a whole.

To try to lessen the load of large debt levels that recent college graduates face, financial aid needs to be a large factor to help families and students afford a college education. Financial aid is money that can come in the form of loans, grants and employment that is available to a student to help pay the cost of attending college. The financial aid mostly comes from the federal government, as well as state government, the school and a variety of other public and private sources. However, the current financial aid packages available for students have not kept up with the increases in tuition.

One of the biggest problems with the current financial aid packages is that they are increasingly consisting of more high interest loans and less grants and scholarships. The financial aid problem is one of the leading causes of the high debt levels that accumulate because of the high interest loans that a student needs to take out. Although many people try to avoid debt, student loans become the only other option. About 64 percent of all students borrow money. (Cappannari) Twenty-five years ago, students who wanted to avoid debt could use money from part-time and summer jobs to help pay for college (Cappannari).

But since then, college tuition has risen at twice the rate of consumer prices so students have few other options (Cappannari). Tuition has soared much faster than pay has for the kinds of low-wage jobs that students tend to hold. Once again colleges and universities make it difficult for students to afford an education without being thousands of dollars in debt when they graduate. As a solution to the financial aid problem, I have come up with a proposed outline on how to alter the current financial aid system to reduce the debt that a college student faces after graduation. 1. Reduce the interest rate on student loans.

2. Raise the maximum Federal Pell Grants and other state grants. Two decades ago, the maximum Pell Grant covered 55 percent of costs at a public four-year college, compared with only 32 percent today. 3. Launch a public service ad campaign to raise awareness in low-income communities about financial aid resources. 4. Try to introduce more federal financial programs and incentives that reward good academic students. I believe that this outline addresses the major issues surrounding financial aid that we need change in our current plan because it is not working for college students.

Our goal should be to provide each and every single American with a reasonable financial aid package that can help make college affordable for everyone. College affordability is a very important issue that Americans need to be aware of. Our jobs as individuals living in this country and as being the future for this country need to make this issue heard and dealt with. America needs to address the problems of soaring college tuition prices, unmanageable debts, and a better financial aid solution to help support students in their pursuit of a college education.

I believe that Americans should not let the doors of opportunity close because we couldn’t come together to lower the cost of college and extend the promise of a bright future. It’s time to put the American dream within reach for all Americans, regardless of ethnic or economic background.

Works Cited

Cappannari, Andrea. ” American college students graduate with record levels of debt” 22 Apr 2002 1. 7 Oct 2008 < http://www. wsws. org/articles/2002 /apr2002 /debt-a22. shtml>.