Expensive college tuition: How can we change that for the future

Tara Dupree '20, Contributing Writer

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Making the decision to go to college can be, undoubtedly, one of the most important choices in a teenager’s life. As a junior in high school, I have begun to look at schools, and it’s really stressful! I am confident I will get into college; however, the cost is something that I am much more concerned with because when I see how much school tuition is in our country, I’m shocked at the astronomical numbers I see. The cost of college is giving me way too many headaches as a junior in high school. And I’m in a relatively secure economic situation, so I can only imagine the stress levels of those struggling with money.

The United States has the reputation of having the most expensive college tuition in the world with the national average at approximately $23,000, almost ten times the maximum cost of college in Europe (countries in the EU have a maximum college tuition of $2,400 US, with most falling far below this amount). It’s no secret that the majority of people in the United States can’t afford this tuition, but at the same time, a four year college degree (and then a graduate degree) is almost a necessity to obtaining a good job nowadays. So, most people are forced into taking out massive student loans that leave them in debt for decades after graduation. The summation of our national student debt right now reaches $1.5 trillion, far surpassing even the national credit card debt (around $1 trillion).

But why is college tuition so expensive in the United States? Well it’s really because we have some of the best schools in the world. We arguably have the best college education system in the world, with millions of foreign students flocking to the U.S. every year to earn a better education. To achieve this high standard of education, we also spend a lot of money on students. In the US, we spend an average of $30,000 per student per year. This includes student life spending (dorms, dining halls, athletic facilities and other niceties on campus), teacher salaries, and non-teaching staff salaries (maintenance workers, athletic coaches, admin, etc). The main problem I see with this amount of student spending is that most of it isn’t directly spent on students. Besides, student life and teacher salaries, most of the money “spent on students” (as well as a bunch more) goes directly to the school and higher ranking non-teaching staff (who, for the record, are paid significantly more than professors).  

Another reason that college is so expensive in the United States is that the government (specifically the federal government) doesn’t put as much money towards education as it does many of its other services. The United States has the most powerful economy in the world. We are able to spend billions of dollars on national defense. However, we spend a lot less on education. In 2012, we spent a fiscal $107.6 billion dollars on public education including everything from school upkeep to teacher salaries. That seems like a lot of money, and it is, but compared to some of the other federal budgets it’s next to nothing. For example, the national defense budget is almost $600 billion almost six times the education budget. The national defense budget is funded mainly by the federal government while education is almost entirely funded by state and local governments. Defense is important, but isn’t education at least as if not more?  

Furthermore, the United States has one of the strongest economies in the world.  There are 24 countries around the world that offer free public college education for their citizens, most of them having far worse economies. These include countries from Brazil and Kenya, to Luxembourg and Sweden. So, there are countries that have been able to implement free or extremely low cost quality college education, so it is possible for it to be done here in the U.S. And, most of these countries have smaller populations, smaller economies, and overall just aren’t as powerful as the United States. So, if Greece, a country with one of the worst economies in the world, can offer free public college for its citizens, the US can at least cut our current average public college tuition in half.

Many of these countries are able to do this because of stronger government initiation towards providing lower cost higher education for their citizens. They set subsidies for their students and fund more for their public colleges making school far less expensive for the individual. On the other side however, most of these countries do not have the same high quality education as the United States. So I don’t believe making public college free in the United States is a good idea, but making it less expensive is something that can and should be done.

I believe that setting strong subsidies on college tuition and putting more money into public colleges is a vital step to making college more affordable here in the United States. My mom, Dr. Dupree, an economics professor at Northeastern University believes this too. She believes that subsidies on college education would have a huge effect on lowering the cost of going to school in the United States. A subsidy is when the government gives either a student or a university a certain amount of money to go towards their college tuition. It’s different from a loan because it doesn’t leave students in debt for years on end. Subsidies would relieve the stress of paying for college especially for students in lower income families, students with families of their own to take care of, or students working full time and going to school simultaneously.

Some people might be concerned that setting subsidies would cause taxes to rise. But, subsidies have what economists call a Positive Externality. This is a socio economic term meaning that something will benefit society as a whole and not just a specific person or group of people. For example, if someone were to receive a government subsidy to pay for their college tuition, it would greatly benefit them because then they are able to go to school and gain a skill set for a particular job. The student then graduates and then is able to use these skills to benefit society as well as themselves. In the long term, the subsidy has not just affected the student, it has affected society as a whole in a beneficial way.

Dr Dupree also expressed her opinion on why states should be putting more money into their state colleges. Putting more money in colleges would also help reduce the cost of tuition for students. State colleges are also some of our best colleges in the country. From Michigan State University to University of Pennsylvania, they offer some of the best education in the country. She specifically cited University of Illinois as a good example of this. She stated that the University of Illinois is one of the most well rounded colleges in the world. They have extremely strong programs in almost every field and attract thousands of US and foreign students alike. But, the University receives almost no funding from the state of Illinois. Because of this, the average tuition is an outrageous $30-40,000. Putting more money into state colleges would help tuition be less expensive and make some of our best higher education much more affordable.   

Dr Dupree believes that implementing subsidies and more state college funds is a completely reasonable plan for the United States to execute. Overall it would help a lot more than it would hurt. The only problem is that it’s not likely to happen under the current administration, her reasoning being both President Trump and our own Secretary of Education, Betsy de Vos, don’t put the stock and value into education to implement this plan. It would also be difficult to quantify and prove the numbers that would be impacted by subsidies. She does believe, however, it could be possible in the future under new administration who would put their time and energy into making education more affordable.

So, going forward with my college search won’t be any easier because I’ve written this. But, I think it could help open up people’s eyes to why college is so expensive but also so necessary. It could reveal that this a fixable problem, and we should take more steps in the political and economic worlds towards making tuition more affordable for the masses. Remember, we are the future and we have the power to make a difference not just for us but for generations to come.  Sources Used: