The nation’s collective student loan balance has reached $1 trillion and it continues to rise, The New York Times reported Saturday in a feature about the increasing amount of students who work their way through school and still graduate with large debts.
It is well known that the price of a college education in the U.S., especially at a private university, is often unmanageably high. Many students must work two jobs to pay for it. This is less than ideal, noting how too much work takes away from what college should be about: studying. If students are forced to spend the majority of their time at work, their studies will suffer, and they will ultimately get less out of the education they toil to finance.
The problem with high college tuitions (which continue to rise) is that they marginalize middle class students. The majority of families in the United States cannot afford the full price of a private university tuition. At the same time, however, many of the same are too affluent to qualify for financial aid. High tuitions therefore rob middle class students of the opportunity to attend the university of their choice not on the basis of merit but because of a lack of funds.
True, there are other options. State and community schools in the country are good. There are a number of scholarships available to students willing to work and apply for them. Still, according to The Times, few students can actually work their way through college in a normal amount of time without debt and financial. Even state schools cost much more than the average student working a low-paying job can afford.
It appears “the college experience” is a myth experienced only by those privileged enough to pay for room and board, cafeteria costs, and leisure. For the rest, college is a financial burden.
The problem is the widespread belief that private (and thus more expensive) colleges are inherently better and more desirable, and give students a leg up in the job market. For this reason, students will work to pay for a more prestigious education.
Finances create an impediment to collegiate growth and success. They also inhibit creativity. The rising cost of college, and the inability to pay for it, could be the ironic reason for which universities are having to slash their humanities departments as more and more students opt to study business and finance instead of, say, Italian literature.
The issue obviously is not pressing enough for colleges to make significant changes to their tuition and financial aid policies. Indeed, there appears to be enough students willing to pay — or work to pay — for their education. But there are a number of things that universities could do to address the problem. First, the FAFSA system, which offers federal student aid, should take into account that while students can legally remain dependents on their parents for things such as taxes and health insurance, they might not receive financial assistance from their parents. Additionally, universities could work to make changes that might help to reduce costs. They could turn off more lights during off-hours; they could reduce the salaries of officials who claim to care about the student body but enjoy enormous financial benefits themselves.