The collegiate success story fades as tuition prices soar

By on September 16, 2015
opinion

By Ryan Hiles–

Brilliant people come from all over the world over for an American education. What makes American colleges so exceptional, however, is also what makes them so expensive.

There is an unbelievable amount of money flowing into to American universities, but when you take a closer look, secondary education for middle or lower class Americans is still an enormous financial burden. This has created something of an identity crisis for American universities.

According to the New York Times, a college education at a public 4-year university could be obtained for the modest price of about $2,500 a year in 1974, adjusted for inflation. That low number rattles around in your head for a bit, making you wonder what happened in the last forty years? More importantly, what made college go from attainable for even financially unstable families to something parents start saving for before their child is even born?

Any student currently enrolled in a 4-year university knows that the cost of college goes up year after year. It’s not a matter of if, but of how much. The reason for rising tuition costs America is a twofold issue.

First, unlike other businesses or corporations, the goal of universities isn’t to amass enormous amounts of money, but to spend enormous amounts of money.

A school’s relative value is not only based on prestige and status, but also things like the quality of facilities. This inevitably leads to massive expenditures from universities that are just trying to keep up. A great number of American universities–including U of L– are taking part in this arms race. They’re competing not just to attract top academic talent, but also anyone who can cut them a check.

That money coming in, which would have once gone to sustain and modestly upgrade  facilities while also ameliorating student tuition costs, is now being used for new–and unfortunately, more luxurious–amenities.

The second reason for rising tuition costs has less to do with universities themselves and more with the individual states. After the 2008 economic crisis, states began disinvesting in higher education funding as a temporary cost-cutting measure. Seven years later, that same funding remains as low as ever and nowhere near pre-recession rates.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities lists Kentucky as one of only a handful of states that continues to slash public funding for college since the recession. The lack of state funding is being made up for by skyrocketing tuition costs statewide–something we feel at home here at U of L.

All of this is a crisis of identity for the American university system. Having money is now a prerequisite to seek higher education. As many of us would hate to agree, that seems to be the path we’re walking down.

My grandmother was one of the first women to ever attend college at the University of Chicago. She didn’t come from any kind of money, and her parents were Armenian refugees who worked low-wage jobs most of their lives. Unlike today, a part time job and intellectual curiosity was enough to get her through school. She was able to pass down the importance of education to my mother, who passed it down to me. This same tradition is what I fear of losing.

There are plenty of unbelievably successful people who never sought secondary education, but those people are the exception and not the rule. There’s an idea that some people just aren’t meant to go to school, and maybe that’s true. But the reason they aren’t meant for school shouldn’t be poverty.

Education is what pulls people out of poverty. Yet, by pricing-out students who are not  financially well-off regardless of qualification, we’re simply allowing the cycle of poverty to continue faster than ever.

About Ryan Hiles

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