But How Will I Afford My Starbucks? – A Look at the Rising Costs of Higher-Ed by a Freshly Enrolled College Student

Molly Morabito, News Editor '13

The rising costs of higher education seem to be all anyone’s talking about these days. Of course, as someone freshly enrolled in college, that perspective may be a little skewed. My fellow graduates of the Class of 2013 and I are probably a little more anxious about this issue than most—but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a very legitimate reason to be. In case you or your parents are not contemplating the fact that the next four years of your life may lead to possible financial ruin, here are a couple numbers to give you an idea of what we’re facing. The average cost of college tuition is growing at an annual rate of 7.45%, which is approximately six times the rate of the consumer price index (and this is America we’re talking about, people). Students are now graduating with student loan debts of $100,000 or more. In fact, total student loan debt in this country has passed the trillion-dollar mark—which is more than national credit card debt.

Am I scaring you yet? Good.

Look, I’m not trying to be dramatic. I’m not going so far as to call the rising costs of tuition the next housing bubble (although some economists on Wall Street have). I’m certainly not trying to frighten or discourage anybody from achieving a college education. On the contrary, I believe a good education is essential to the development and enhancement of our society—a belief commonly-held by most in America. The question, then, is why are we making it so much harder to achieve this education.

Believe it or not, colleges, themselves, aren’t entirely to blame. For one, alumni donations across the board are at the lowest level in at least 25 years. Given our country’s current economic woes, it’s a small wonder why people are a little less inclined to open their pocketbooks with generosity in mind. Similarly, state and local financing for higher education has declined drastically in recent years, with two-thirds of states cutting funding for college in the last five years. Private colleges have not been as hard hit by funding cuts thus far, yet they’ve still seen increases in costs like employee health care, insurance premiums and technology. New programs for students, like mental health counseling and expansive tutoring programs, are also reputed to be huge financial drainers.

Ok, so funding cuts from government seems like valid reason. But can students really be a reason for rising tuition costs? Maybe. Recent reports show colleges have been investing in many programs that pertain less to education and more to student preferences. Schools have paid to enhance dorm rooms to provide easy access to things once thought of as luxuries, like Internet and cable, but are now considered necessities for the average college-goer. In addition, they’re vastly expanding sports programs and renovating campuses in the hopes of encouraging more high school seniors to apply, each college vying desperately to live up to the image of the “perfect college” that has somehow been perpetuated in our society.

The good news is both of these problems are solvable. Reminding our elected officials that education is a priority will get government funding flowing again. Re-evaluating whether a brand new sports arena is worth that extra $4,000 in your yearly tuition payments might help colleges focus on what our money should really be going towards.

In the meantime, you’re pretty much left with two options. Pay the excessive tuition costs and likely take out a loan or two at some point, or don’t go to college. Clearly, you know which one I chose. And here’s why. Yes, high tuition is rough. But college graduates are likely to earn $570,000 more than a high school graduate over the course of a lifetime, and the weekly income of someone with a bachelor’s degree is 64% higher than those without one, on average. And yes, people have been lamenting the unemployment rates among college graduates throughout the entire recession, but those rates are still drastically lower than unemployment among non-degree holders.

If you’re one of those few admirable people who value altruistic incentive over economic ones, a college education will equip you with the type of skills this country desperately needs. We need well-educated individuals with fresh new ideas to lead our country out of its current crises—not to mention solve the tuition problem. For me (and clearly for my parents, who are the ones actually paying), a college education has more value than the monetary number it’s been assigned. My parents aren’t just paying for four years of classes, textbooks, and cafeteria visits (which will be quite frequent, I’m sure): they’re investing in my future, and the belief that an education will enhance my life in ways we cannot yet even conceive.

I just hope they never ask me to reimburse them for it.