Cost of College Has Increased 25% Over the Last 10 Years – Why?
A variety of factors are contributing to the rising cost of college.
Kathryn Knight Randolph
January 15, 2020
The cost of college and student loan debt aren’t just topics that dominate Presidential debates; conversations on these issues occur frequently around dinner tables, during admissions interviews and in high school counselors’ offices. It’s the chief concern of students and their parents as they maneuver through the college admissions process. How much is this going to cost us? It’s no surprise that families are worried about the rising cost of college. According to CNBC, the cost of college has increased 25% over the last 10 years. However, CNBC Make It, which works to educate readers on navigating financial decisions, didn’t just analyze the increasing costs of college; they also got down to why tuition has been increasing at such a rapid rate. Here’s why:
- Higher Education funding cuts. Experts have found that state funding for public colleges is still at pre-recession levels, despite inflation. CNBC found that while tuition has increased by an average of 37% in all 50 states, spending per student at state colleges has decreased by 13% in 41 states over the last 10 years. Only nine states have increased per-student funding: New York, Montana, California, Alaska, Wisconsin, Hawaii, Wyoming, North Dakota and Illinois. Michael Mitchell, senior director and counselor of Equity and Inclusion at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told CNBC that, “Nearly every state has shifted the responsibility of funding higher education from the state to students over the last 25 years, with the most drastic shift occurring in the past decade.”
- Cost of living increases. Because the cost of living has increased everywhere for everyone, this impacts college spending. Colleges must pay their faculty and staff more, as well as offer competitive benefits. The rising cost of living also impacts students who move away from home to live on- or off-campus. As most students are opting to move away from home, this makes college more expensive overall for them.
- Other expenses at colleges. Whenever students and families tour college campuses, they may see outlandish extras like hot tubs, climbing walls and even lazy rivers (yes, Texas Tech University has a lazy river). These commodities typically garner two reactions: one of awe or one of disgusted disbelief. Believe it or not, though, unbelievable extras like these aren’t responsible for the increasing cost of college. The same can be said about campus construction and administration costs. CNBC reports that: “…a report titled ‘Pulling Up the Higher-Ed Ladder: Myth and Reality in the Crisis of College Affordability’ from public policy think tank Demos, higher education funding cuts are responsible for 79% of tuition increases.” Essentially, it all goes back to government budget cuts toward education.
How can families plan for college cost increases?
If the problem lies with the government, families must plan to combat the rising cost of college. Here are a few steps to make college more affordable:
- Start thinking and talking about college sooner rather than later. Start talking about your college plans with family members and/or guardians long before you begin the actual college search – during your sophomore or junior year, at the latest. Talk about who will be paying for college as well as what type of college you can afford. This is also a good time to take stock of your grades, test scores and extracurriculars. Do you need to improve in any of these areas in order to make yourself a more marketable student? After all, your college admissions application isn’t just an application for admission. Your chances of winning an institutional scholarship also depend on this application. Students with higher GPAs, test scores and a history of involvement in extracurricular activities tend to receive greater merit scholarship amounts.
- Be smart about your college choices. As you research colleges, place them into categories:
Reach schools. First, start with colleges that are the ultimate dream school to attend – whether that’s from an academic or financial standpoint. These are the schools that you would love to attend regardless of how much they cost, acceptance rates and available scholarships and financial aid.
Target schools. These schools are the reality check. They are the schools that fit your current academic performance as well as financial circumstances. Typically, target schools may require scholarships or financial aid in order to attend, but it’s not too much of a stretch on you or your family’s budget.
Safety schools. Finally, safety schools are schools that you could definitely get into as well as afford. This option may also mean completing general education courses at a community college before moving on to a four-year college. Once you have schools that fit each category, check out their net price calculators on each school’s financial aid page. These calculators will take your personal information, like GPA and family finances, and provide a financial aid and scholarship package estimate. Based on this estimate, you’ll be able to determine if each school is a responsible financial decision. Further, once it’s time to apply, send your application to the same range of schools. The most expensive school may surprise you with a generous scholarship and financial aid package, making it the most affordable option. Essentially, you need to do your research, put in the hard work of comparing colleges and get all of the information you need to make a responsible decision.
- Start saving and searching for scholarships. Some families begin saving for college as soon as their children are born, while others don’t consider saving for college until their child begins the college search. Whatever the case for your family, start saving today (or keep saving). As you prepare for college, motivate yourself with the fact that a dollar saved is one less dollar that has to be borrowed in order to pay for college. While it may not seem like a lot, whatever you save is better than nothing. Students also don’t consider scholarships until they begin the college search. However, students can begin applying for scholarships as soon as their freshmen year in high school in some cases. Don’t limit the scholarship search to your junior and senior years in high school. Utilize all of the time you have in order to cut college costs. Yes, college costs are increasing at a rapid rate. Yes, state and federal governments are spending less on higher education than they were 10 years ago. However, students and their families can take steps together to ensure that they’re equipped and knowledgeable on how to best pay for college.