The High Cost of Higher Education in America and Its Impact on Equal Opportunity for All Americans
Field Report – Higher Education in America
Obtaining a higher education used to be an equal opportunity for all Americans, whether they were part of the working class or upper class. However, since the price of tuition began to increase drastically in the mid 1990’s, paying for college has become a national problem. According to Bill Zimmerman, “The blame is laid on sharp state budget cutbacks,” which caused an increase in tuition in public universities. Elite private schools then also raised their tuitions to maintain their prestige and reputation, while simultaneously increasing revenue (Zimmerman, How Did College Education Become So Ridiculously Expensive?). This pattern has set off an extreme escalation in the cost of college, which is having a huge impact on American students who are trying to gain a higher education. Many people around the world believe that education is a human right, however, in America, it is, instead, becoming a privilege for the wealthy.
At approximately this time last year I was spending $80 for each college application I sent in. Prior to this process, I also spent about $80 each time I had to take the SAT and ACT, tests that are required for acceptance to any of the aforementioned schools, coming to an overall cost of about $1,000. This might seem an unreasonable price to pay in order to simply apply to potential schools. But those fees are miniscule compared to the tuitions for American colleges, which range from $30,000 to $60,000 per year. Not to mention the fact that colleges and universities are raising the price for tuition and fees every year, which continues to be a problem for the current generation of young adults. Luckily, for me, my parents were willing to, and able to, pay for my advancement to higher education; however many Americans do not have this same luxury. There is no doubt that a plethora of students are unable to pay these large amounts of money, and are thus prevented from pursuing higher education. The extremely expensive cost of college in the United States hinders students’ opportunity to pursue a college education by creating future debt, thus lessening students’ ability to fulfill their utmost potential in obtaining the education to which they are entitled.
Often times, the expense of college is justified by the fact that there are options such as student loans and scholarships to aid the cost. It is respectable that many universities, as well as the government, recognize that some applicants aren’t as fortunate as others and, as a result, offer this aid. There are a variety of scholarships offered through high schools, organizations and websites, all of which are accessible if sought out. Some universities even offer full-ride merit scholarships for students with outstanding academic performance. By putting in effort to search for scholarships and achieve academic proficiency it is possible that the cost of college would not affect some students.
However, these options do not necessarily serve to make higher education an equal opportunity for all Americans. For instance, student loans have actually exacerbated the issue in that they have become the only way for students from lower income families to pay for their education, thus causing crippling debt for the future. In fact, in 2010, families with the bottom 25% incomes held 58% of the nation’s student loan debt, while those families in the 10thpercentile held only 3% of the national debt (Severns, 1). The increasing cost of college calls for the increasing need for student loans, which basically guarantees hundreds of thousands of dollars in future debt for the student, all because they are trying to pursue a higher education.
Unfortunately, not only has the price of college increased, but also the implied need for a college education has increased. Most decent, well-paying jobs require a college degree for employment, making it almost entirely necessary for students across the country to receive a higher education. American students spend an absurd amount of money on college and when they graduate, they aren’t at all guaranteed a job in this economy, making it even more difficult to pay off loans. This, in turn, affects millions of students by limiting their economic activity, which eventually becomes a larger national economic issue. As more and more students are tied down by student loan debt, it usually reduces their spending on other items such as cars, apartments, houses and other commodities after graduating college. In other words, their increase in debt limits their consumption, which would otherwise stimulate economic growth.
Another major concern that comes along with the rapid increase in the price of college is the fact that the cost prevents certain students from going to colleges whose academic level correlates with the student’s intellectual potential. Academically prestigious schools are typically much more expensive than, for example, a community college. These elite universities are entirely unattainable for some students, despite their intelligence level, solely because of their cost. Furthermore, the price of college could even prevent prospective students from attending college altogether. Many students simply cannot afford higher education whatsoever; as a result, they are forced to deny education as a whole, thus hindering their full potential due to their financial status. Or in another circumstance, the cost may cause a student to attend a school less suitable for their intellectual abilities, as opposed to a better school that they would otherwise be able to succeed in, if not for the cost. This issue creates a cycle of unequal opportunities, inherently benefitting the wealthy, despite my belief that all Americans should have the opportunity to receive a higher education, regardless of their financial status.
Many of these student loans come from the government. The government’s current student loan program generates a profit because “the interest rate paid by borrowers exceeds the federal government’s cost to fund those loans and administer the program.” According to the Huffington Post, the U.S. Department of Education is predicted to produce $127 billion in profit over the next decade from student loans (Nasiripour, 1). It is without a doubt problematic that the government is profiting from young people’s pursuit of higher education, a right that all Americans should be entitled to.
An apparent and simple solution to this problem is clearly not easily accessible, or it would have already been implemented, as this issue has become more and more severe. However, it is important to take into consideration possible solutions that could theoretically be successful. Other than universities deciding to reduce their tuition, which does not seem to be happening anytime soon, banks could provide non-profit interest rates to students, as banks have made more than enough money off student loans already. This would mean “borrowers pay the same interest rate the lender pays to get the money being lent” which would, consequently, stop existing debt from rapidly increasing, giving students enough time to repay their loans (Zimmerman, How to Save the Victims of the Student Loan Crisis). With this solution, we could reduce the amount of overwhelming profits being made off of American students who are only trying to obtain a college education. Access to a less expensive, high-quality education would be better for the economy and society as a whole.
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