Imagine handing $238 in cash to your professor every time you walk into class. That’s roughly the cost of each daily class one attends at the University of Southern California where the annual tuition is $57,256. That price point hints toward the larger picture of America’s broken college financial system, a system that demands excessively high tuition and and accumulation of student debt, crippling the stability of both students’ finances and the broader economy. While social norms designate a college degree as a necessary component of both professional and intellectual fulfillment, it has become increasingly clear that these institutions prioritize the dollar over the student.
Far too many students are priced out of the education necessary to ensure their future success. For example, half of high-income Americans hold a bachelor’s degree by 25, while only 10% of low-income families do by that age, according to the Atlantic. Furthermore, high school graduates have continually struggle once enrolled at college; barely half will get their degree in a reasonable time at a four year school, and only a third do at two-year institutions).
Allie Conti from Vice says there is a widespread narrative convincing students that “the only route to middle-class respectability was to get a college degree and that suggested failing to do so meant having failed at the American dream of upward mobility. Coming from suburban Maryland, I can attest that this narrative is shared among the middle and upper class by students and their parents alike. A college education resonantes as the guarantor of financial and personal success.
“What started off as a vehicle for achieving the American Dream has been devastated by macroeconomic trends like wage stagnation, greedy college administrators, and borrowers who put status above their own actual wellbeing” – Allie Conti
However, such a narrative disregards the tangible, negative impact of excessive student loans. A CNBC report stated “the student loan default rate more than doubled between 2003 and 2011, and 40% of borrowers are expected to fall behind on their loans by 2023.” Our overall outstanding student loan balance in America is likely to grow to $2 trillion by 2022 with many analysts saying a large portion of that is unlikely to ever be paid off. Almost a quarter of student loan borrowers are currently in a state of delinquency or default.
These loans inhibit students from graduating college with any financial freedom, making it cumbersome for the younger generation to invest in homes, cars, their families, or businesses. So not only does their student debt put a financial strain on students themselves, but less wealth is thus available to redistribute into the American economy.
The rise of tuition can be attributed to the 93% increase of federal grants, aid, subsidized loans, and tax credits for students between 2001 and 2017. Citing artificial demand and outrageous administration upkeep, schools have been able to count on increased federal financial aid to rationalize a significantly higher price point. After all, their set prices are ultimately being paid in the end — just not immediately out of students’ wallets.
The trend of 18 to 24-year-olds having to cement themselves in significant debt does not bode well for the overall American economy. Barmak Nassirian, Director of Federal Relations at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, says such loans and debt can prove “very consequential for the future of the country.”
Furthermore, student debt has more than doubled since 2007, while entrepreneurship by 20 to 34-year-olds has declined by roughly 35%. With the increased financial stress, our younger generation has less freedom to pursue innovation or independent business enterprise. By the age of 30, those without student loans are likely to have double the amount saved for retirement than those without . Such heavy debt significantly hinders American business progress if the young body of the workforce doesn’t have the financial agency to work independently.
It is clear that the cost of higher education has skyrocketed to concerning levels, as a mere 13% of millenials believe higher education today is “fine how it is.”Nonetheless, there seems to be no shortage of prospective college students looking to buy their way into having an upper hand in the modern competitive job market.
Further classism and economic divides develops as higher education’s price will continue to grow, making it solely accessible for upper class families that already rely on nepotism and accumulated savings as a fallback to survive the job search. All the while, middle and lower-class families struggle to carry the burden of student debt and must weigh out options of whether to opt out of a four year program in favor of an associate’s degree or joining the workforce right out of high school.
The current college financial system is broken and is crippling the future American workforce. The narrative of higher education’s cost as being the guarantor to future job success benefits elites and puts significant financial stress on the working class. With the unsustainable amount of federal aid being handed out, colleges, the government, and students are investing their future on uncertain grounds. Such incredible debt will have serious repercussions if college graduates are constantly dealing with financial instability. It is about time the American people reevaluated the price they are willing to pay for higher education.