This fall, the tuition at four-year public universities saw about a 5% raise, increasing the average cost to around $8,655. While an additional $400 may not seem like much, it can be an overwhelming obstacle for families who are suffering from the prolonged poor conditions of the economy. It is also worse when you consider that the costs for room and board also increased by nearly the same amount, bringing the average total cost for students who live on campus to $17,680. Although College Board’s latest figures show that students pay substantially less than that figure after grants and tax credits, the total for students living on campus is still at a whopping $12,110 a year on average. The figures are even higher at private colleges, where the average annual cost is around $23,840.
The Double-Edged Sword of College Costs
While the dramatic rise in college costs over the last several years is alarming, figures also show that having a college degree is becoming increasingly essential for economic success in today’s world. Families are strapped for college cash, but they know that it is essential to provide a college education for their children. The results of this trend can be difficult to read. While enrollment has leveled off after a national surge, student borrowing is down by 4%. This may be because larger numbers of low-income students are opting out of college, or it may reflect that more parents are now employed, making them able to help pay for college. While student borrowing is still 24% higher than it was five years ago, the past year’s decline was the first of its kind in the past 20 years.
Causes of Rising Tuition
College Board’s report blames cuts to state funding for this rise in tuition, since historical data has proven that tuition rises most sharply when state funding is reduced. Unfortunately, state funding for higher education has dropped for four years straight and is now 26% lower than it was five years ago. This causes a snowball effect, in which funding from states is cut, causing students to work during school or to not attend college at all. This leads to lower student performance and success for those who work as well as a bleak future outlook for those who can no longer attend.
How the Election May Change the Future of Education
Both presidential candidates have expressed concern regarding the rising costs of higher education, but take vastly different stances regarding the causes and the cure. President Barack Obama believes that the massive expansion of federal student aid during his presidency has helped shield students and their families from state funding cuts. His opponent, Mitt Romney, however, believes that the cost of college has risen due to encouragement from increased federal aid funding. President Obama promises that if he is re-elected, he will continue to provide tax cuts and funding to make higher education possible for all students, while Romney has stated that he would remove these credits and cut funding. His stance is that students should borrow money from their parents for college or start a business instead of attending college.
While the future of college costs and financial aid is uncertain, the need for a degree is not. The best thing you can do to ensure your future (at an affordable rate) is to vote for your government officials at all levels. Research local, state, and federal candidates to find those who will provide you with the best chance for an affordable education and a stable future and let your voice be heard.