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Rising College Costs Threaten Access to Learning and a Future

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College tuition is a national crisis. More than 44.2 million Americans have over $1.44 trillion in unpaid student loans, and this number is only rising. College enrollment has risen by 138 percent over the past 40 years, as it should have. But student debt and college tuition have both risen by extreme amounts as well. And when so many Americans are thrown into debt trying to escape poverty, something needs to change

Education seems to be the only option to have a financially stable life in the United States. According to U.S. Census Bureau figures, a high school dropout on average annually makes close to $19,000, and a high school graduate makes almost $10,000 more at $28,000. Those who hold a four-year degree make more than the national average of $48,000, around $51,000 a year. Advanced degree holders on average make $75,000 annually. It seems obvious that the higher degree one holds, the higher the annual salary. It also appears to be an easy choice to make, but when people have to throw themselves into extreme debt for decades, it becomes a problem.

College is expensive. It has always been expensive, but in the past 30 years, it has become exponentially more expensive. Since 1985 the consumer price index has increased by 115 percent, whereas the college education rate has risen nearly 500 percent. To put that in perspective, the annual in-state tuition rate at Ohio State University in the 1985-86 school year was $664, according to national education statistics. In the 2017-18 school year, in-state tuition will be $10,591. The rise of tuition and inflation isn’t the only inequality either.

In-state and out-of-state tuition have extremely different price points. Student in-state tuition should be should be lower than out-of-state tuition. Students or their parents pay state taxes that help fund the school. But the inequality shouldn’t be as extreme as it is. On average out-of-state tuition costs $8,990 more than in-state, which doesn’t even include the usually necessary room and board costs. State tuition inequalities also lead to students receiving a worse education. 

Universities are aware of the problem, and some have tried to offer solutions. Almost every public university offers some form of financial aid. Harvard University - ranked number one internationally - offers free tuition to those whose families make under $65,000 annually, but the school also raises over $1 billion dollars almost every fiscal year, a luxury very few universities have. Several universities have also lowered tuition rates, but shift their costs into other fees students also have to pay.

A major reason for many universities’ tuition being so high are cuts to funding in a number of states. While the amount of some federal grants has increased, that only allows states to ignore the lack of funding they give public universities. According to U.S. News and & World Report, with the exclusion of North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and Wisconsin, all states spend less per student since the recession in 2008. The majority of states have governors who support small government. These governors have a lot of pressure to lower taxes, and higher education is a very easy thing to cut funding for.

College tuition needs to be lowered. It’s one of this country’s major problems, and something that should be a major shame. State level funding needs to rise, as well as some sort of regulation on limiting tuition increases. The system cannot remain the way it is - or the education system will fail.

Jane Roe is a student at Orono High School. She produced this piece as part of the 2017 Raise Your Voice Workshop in Orono sponsored by Maine Public and the Maine Writing Project.