Lawmakers from across the country are in a perennial tug-of-war over the best ways to make college affordable and to find solutions to the student debt crisis, and so are several presidential hopefuls.
Hillary Clinton recently disclosed her college affordability plan, which would cost $350 billion over 10 years. Called “The New College Compact,” Clinton promises to “tackle the cost of college, making low interest grants and loans more available and ensure the federal government ‘will never again profit off student loans for college students,'” according to a CNN report.
Meanwhile, many parents, still feeling squeezed by the “Great Recession” and wage and compensation stagnation, are worried about how they’ll pay for their children’s college tuition. According to Gallup’s 2001-2015 Economy and Personal Finance survey, Americans’ top financial concern is paying for their children’s education.
Mind you, many families are doing what they can to help pay for college, although their contribution has increasingly fallen. The average parent contribution has dropped by 35 percent from 2010 to 2012. Many students are doing what they can by relying on federal aid. The end result: mounting student loan debt topping $1.2 trillion in 2014, according to a CNBC report.
So, how much does college really cost? Why are college costs so high? What can be done to tame the problem? You may be surprised by the answers.
How Much Does College Cost?
Tuitions are rising faster than other household expenditures. According to Bloomberg Business, tuition fees have skyrocketed by 538 percent since 1985, whereas medical costs increased by 286 percent and the consumer price index (CPI) rose by 121 percent over the same period.
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that, in annual current dollars, the average cost of a college education for full-time undergraduates, including tuition, fees, room, and board, were estimated to be $15,022 at public institutions, $39,173 at private nonprofit institutions, and $23,158 at private for-profit institutions for the 2012-13 academic year. During 2001-03 and 2012-13, these costs grew by 39 percent at public institutions, while private nonprofit institutions witnessed a 27 percent increase, adjusted for inflation.
Adding to students’ tuition woes is the high price of textbooks, which can easily outstrip the cost of a typical course offered at a community college! Textbook prices have grown at nearly the same rate as tuition costs over the past decade, according to U.S. News World Report.
Why Does College Cost So Much?
According to an article entitled “Understanding the Rising Costs of Higher Education,” the rising price of a college education is due to “artificially inflated demand” outpacing supply. The belief that getting a higher education and getting a student loan to pay for it has led to a glut of college applicants and not enough spots for everyone.
In the wake of World War II, the government supported colleges’ expansion efforts to meet increasing demand. New buildings went up, new programs were created, and new talent was recruited. Over the last few decades, government aid has fallen, while demand has continued unabated.
Higher Education Subsidies.
We frequently hear about a shortage in state educational investment. Overall, however, public investment in higher education has actually grown in terms of inflation-adjusted dollars and not decreased, according to The New York Times.
So, wouldn’t it stand to reason that increased education spending would mean an easing of tuitions? Not in this instance. Increased spending has led to a dramatic rise in the number of Americans who go to college. College enrollment has increased by nearly 50 percent since 1995.
Many people believe that full-time faculty salaries are the chief culprit, but not according to the data. On average, teaching salaries have barely inched higher than what they were in 1970, according to The New York Times.
Today, a growing share of part-time faculty are teaching courses (50 percent), as compared to 45 years ago when a majority of full-timers (78 percent) did the teaching. Adjunct faculty usually get paid far less than full-time professors. As a result, the average salaries of these educators are significantly lower than they were in 1970.
Facilities and administrative (F A) costs, including research facilities, utilities, administrative salaries, and general office expenses, at public universities continue to escalate over time. Total university expenses rose 35 percent between 1993 and 2007, while administration costs jumped 61 percent, according to a Forbes article.
What’s the Tuition Solution?
In January 2015, President Obama unveiled the America’s College Promise proposal, which would “make two years of community college free for responsible students,” according to a White House press release. This proposal falls in line with Tennessee Promise, which offers a two-year free ride at a community college or technical school to high school graduates.
Tuition-free college isn’t a new idea. In 1947, President Harry S. Truman appointed the President’s Commission on Higher Education responsible for evaluating higher education in light of its objectives, processes, amenities, and the role it plays in society. The Commission recommended “the extension of free public education through the first two years of college for all youth who can profit from such education.” Perhaps a utilitarian approach whose time has come?
Earlier on Huff/Post50:
Home of Boise State University, Boise made number three on CNN Money’s “25 Best Places To Retire” list for its cultural scene, surprisingly moderate climate, and access to outdoor activities. They also ranked it among their “Top 10 Turnaround Towns,” economically — so it may be worth investing in as home values appreciate.
Claremont offers extensive senior services including the “Claremont Avenues for Lifelong Learning” program, which allows 60+ residents to audit classes at the Claremont Colleges for free. And that sunny California climate isn’t bad either.
Fort Collins, home of Colorado State University, boasts a “small town feeling with the big city attributes that baby boomers crave,” says bestboomertowns.com. Natural attributes abound, too, for retirees who like to ski, or are at least willing to weather snowy winters.
RealAge.com ranks the home of Duke, University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University among its “25 Best Cities For Staying Young” for its “lively, optimistic, and socially connected population.” In 2010, the Carolinas overtook Florida and Arizona as the top places to retire, a Del Webb study found: Topretirements.com cites lower taxes and cost of living, mild climate and promixity to beaches, among other reasons.
Clemson, SC with its reasonably priced homes, large university, lakeside location, and proximity to mountains and waterfalls also boasts a newly constructed million-dollar Osher Life-Long Learning Institute.
Home of the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque boasts great year-round climate: warm, dry and sunny. It’s not as walkable as retirees might prefer, but for the boomer who wants to stay active you can’t beat the Sandia Mountains, as Topretirements.com notes.
Ithaca, located on the shores of Cayuga Lake, New York, is home to both Cornell University and Ithaca College. The area is known for its many vineyards and farms and is surrounded by rolling hills with pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. A recent partnership between Ithaca College and a few nearby retirement communities to promote intergenerational learning has opened the doors for local seniors to audit classes and attend plays and concerts on campus.
Princeton, New Jersey is a quaint and picturesque town featuring graceful streets, first-class shopping and top-rated restaurants. If you can handle the high state taxes and housing prices, the cultural opportunities in Princeton are superb because of the university and its proximity to both New York City and Philadelphia. In 2005, CNN/Money rated Princeton 15th on its list of the 100 best places to live in the U.S.
Set in the northwest corner of Massachusetts, Williamstown, home to Williams College, is a delightful town nestled in the beautiful Berkshire Mountains. Williamstown is a sought-after retirement community for these reasons and for its extremely rich cultural environment. The famed Clark Art Institute, the Williams College Museum of Art, and the Williamstown Theatre Festival are all located in this cozy northeastern community.
The city of Asheville, North Carolina offers transplants majestic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, relatively moderate temperatures year-round and first-class medical facilities. The University of North Carolina at Asheville was one of the first major schools to offer an on-campus center dedicated to making retirement a fulfilling stage of life: The North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement, founded in 1988, is consistently ranked as one of the best facilities of its kind.
Charlottesville, Virginia, is home to the stately and picturesque University of Virginia, founded by President Thomas Jefferson. The town offers a tree-lined charm that, combined with its location at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, makes it easy to see why so many active adults are planning to retire in Charlottesville.
One of America’s most famous college towns, Ann Arbor, Michigan is home to world famous University of Michigan. The city has strict zoning regulations that make life difficult for developers but result in an extremely pleasant small-town environment. Downtown Ann Arbor has music stores, sidewalk cafes, bars, bookstores, shops and an array of people from surrounding Michigan areas that descend on the town each weekend. For these reasons, many Midwesterners and University of Michigan alumni choose Ann Arbor as their retirement destination. (Just find friends to visit in the south when winter arrives.)
Gainesville, Florida, home to the University of Florida, has a reputation for being an inexpensive, lively college town with a Southern charm and knack for attracting recent retirees. The University offers local seniors access to college classes, cultural opportunities and world-class medical facilities, as well as priority access to Gators football games.
Eugene, Oregon, home to the University of Oregon, is famous for its extensive park system, which includes many bike and running trails. Access to the Cascade Mountain range with its unlimited hiking, skiing and outdoor opportunities, as well as a thriving and eclectic arts scene, make Eugene a favored destination for retirees.
Athens is a college town in the hills of northeastern Georgia. Nearby University of Georgia has helped to create an unusually liberal community with a thriving artistic, literary, musical and intellectual scene. Athens consistently ranks among the nation’s best towns for relocation and retirement, with new residents drawn to the moderate climate, convenience to Atlanta and world-class hospitals and medical facilities associated with the University.
State College, home to Penn State University, has long attracted retirees with an abundance of shops, restaurants and cultural amenities in the area. People over 55 comprise the fastest growing segment of the town’s population and the Village at Penn State, a renowned continuing care residence in the heart of State College, offers residents access to premium care as well as free admission to University classes and priority access to Penn State football games.