The real cost of tuition

By Brad Davis /// Staff Writer

Tuition sucks. As the cost of higher education continues to rise across the country, this financial burden grows heavier. This is why, especially for college students, higher education affordability has developed into one of the most salient political issues of the presidential campaign. On campus, students often call for increases in loan subsidies, Pell grants, and other federal funding opportunities. This might be a mistake.

For some of these programs, the government guarantees payment up to full cost based upon need. With others, the financial coverage is set but changes with market costs. Such a system incentivizes — or, at least, does not disincentivize — a market where colleges and universities continue to raise tuition. At schools like Lewis & Clark College, these trends are most pronounced. Recent investigations by the New York Federal Reserve Board found that for comparable small, private schools, a dollar increase in federal grant or subsidy funding leads to a 65¢ increase in tuition.

While this effect could be negligible for students dependent on federal financing programs, it seems that tuition may increase at an even greater rate than assistance. Middle income students are also greatly impacted. Many of such students may receive aid for a portion of tuition, but rising tuition would make this less proportionate, thereby forcing students into greater debt and families budgeting even more for education. This problem might grow even worse in the near-term, as the movement for greater tuition relief gains media attention. Some forward-planning institutions may predict a likely increase in future revenue and advance large-capital projects while shelving proposals for cost cutting.

For the most part, the proposals from President Barack Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton to alleviate college debt have centered around further subsidizing loans and raising awareness of how much schools cost in proportion to how much their graduates are paid. Both of these solutions are concerning. The online database of costs and earnings is undoubtedly misleading, confirming to prospective students that they meet median profiles or will have the capacity to payoff their loans in the long-term, and a promise to expand Pell grants and other financing will continue to exacerbate current conditions.

Surprisingly, these problems might best be addressed by Senator Bernie Sander’s proposal to make public schools free. Such a policy, without a reliance on credit and individualized financing, would set public revenue for each institution and create streamlined, stable tuition. That being said, Sanders’ plan has the potential to create numerous other issues: unmanageable increases in demand, decreases in quality of education, and a greater disparity between students at public and private colleges.

When it comes to college tuition, there are no simple solutions. By expanding federal financing and tuition assistance, the benefits of greater accessibility of education for prospective students may outweigh rising costs as a whole. As students, it is easy to want more from our education while paying less for it. However, this may not be most prudent. Perhaps, by paying more for college, we can make it cost less.

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