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Public Colleges Are Getting More Expensive, and Here’s Why


If it seem like tuition costs are out of control, it’s not your imagination. Higher education is expensive, even at a public institution, where the average tuition and fees averaged about $14,300 during the 2011-2 academic year. Meanwhile, the median household income in the US was approximately $50,500 for 2011. Do you know anyone who could afford to part with 28 percent of their family income, even for a good investment like education?


(Photo Credit: Tax Credits/Flickr)

Increasingly, the burden of educational costs falls on the students and their families, not on the state. Jordan Weissmann at Slate points out that taxpayers in some parts of the country pay less than 15 percent of educational costs at public colleges and universities.

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It wasn’t always this way.

“In the 1980s, student tuition covered less than a quarter of so-called ‘educational revenue,’ which is essentially the money colleges have available to spend on basic operating expenses, like teaching and administration,” Weissmann writes. “The rest came from government appropriations. Today, students cover almost half the cost of their own educations, on average.”

No wonder that many parents and students — and President Obama — are concentrating on the return on investment students will get out of their degrees. When your college education costs this much, you better be sure you get a job that will help you pay those student loans.

That might sound perfectly reasonable, in a sense: if students stand to benefit from investing in their education, why shouldn’t they front the money for it? But 35 percent of loan-carrying graduates under the age of 30 are “seriously delinquent” in their payments, meaning that they haven’t made a payment in 90 days or more. With many jobs requiring not only bachelor’s degrees but graduate-level work, it’s hard to begrudge students a shot at a better life. Should they have to gamble on their credit and career with no help from the state?

Then there’s the fact that, dollar for dollar, education is one of the best investments a government can make in its country. Historian Milton Greenberg estimated that the original GI Bill returned $7 for every $1 invested, producing 450,000 engineers, 240,000 accountants, 238,000 teachers, among other important occupations. One study found that 2.2 million World War II veterans attended college as a result of GI Bill funding, while another 5.6 million engaged in vocational training.

We hear a lot about the skills gap, and America’s need for educated workers who can fill it. What better way to help them — and the country — than to make sure students don’t foot the entirety of their bills themselves?

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Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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