There was a time when tuition cost was just one of many factors a prospective college student and their parents had to consider when deciding to make a choice on which school to attend.
But tuition has risen at such alarming rates the past several years that going to college has become not just more expensive but almost downright prohibitive.
With few questions, the University of Texas System’s Board of Regents recently voted unanimously to raise the cost of tuition and fees at each college they oversee by up to 8.5 percent for in-state undergraduates, The Texas Tribune reported. Most schools will see increases in the 1 percent to 7 percent range — adding hundreds of additional dollars to students’ tuition bills each year.
That’s reflective of a nationwide tendency. According to the College Board’s “Trends in College Pricing 2017” report, students at public four-year institutions paid an average of $3,190 in tuition for the 1987-1988 school year, with prices adjusted to reflect 2017 dollars. Thirty years later, that average had risen to $9,970 for the 2017-2018 school year. That’s a 213 percent increase.
Briefing materials provided in advance of the UT Regents’ tuition decision cited economic factors and declining state support as reasons the increases are necessary.
Over the last decade and a half, state appropriations have dwindled from around $8,000 per full-time student at UT System schools, adjusted for inflation, to around $6,000, the Tribune reported. The cost of tuition and fees paid by students and their parents crept up during that time from roughly $5,000 to $8,000 in 2016.
The increase in costs to attend public, state colleges and decreases in state funding come at a time when big private universities have increased spending dramatically. That puts prospective students from low-income families at even more of a disadvantage. While half of people from high-income families will get a college degree by age 25, just one in 10 people from low-income families do, according to a report on the NEA Today website.
So what’s a student to do? Well, a lot of times they just go into debt. In 2012, 71 percent of graduates from four-year colleges carried debt, with students at public schools owing an average of $25,550 and those with degrees from private colleges owing an average of $32,300, Student Loan Hero reported.
Thankfully, both UT and Texas A&M have taken steps to assist students whose families fall below a certain income threshold. UT will cover tuition and fees for students whose families earn under $65,000, while Texas A&M has a similar program that covers tuition costs for students whose families’ gross income comes in at below $60,000, according to the Texas Tribune. The UT will also alleviate tuition costs for families who annually earn up to $125,000 if they can demonstrate financial needs. While this helps alleviate financial concerns for many students, it does nothing to stop the ballooning bloat of higher education.
Still, with a statewide media income of more than $60,000 a year, that leaves many families ineligible.
Given the barriers students face nowadays, it’s even more important for them to explore all avenues of financial aid available. But that can be an arduous process. The federal financial aid form, at six pages and 153 questions, is twice as long as the federal tax return, according to NEA Today.
The bottom line for students’ bottom line is they probably deserve some kind of break, whether it’s an increase in federal Pell Grants or state funding, and/or making student loans more affordable.
Without these generous forms of assistance, we run the risk of attaining a college education, instead of being a reachable dream for many, becoming a pipe dream reserved for just the affluent who can afford to send their kids to college.