Is College Too Expensive?

According to recent data released by the United States Census Bureau, college enrollment by African Americans declined by 108,000 in the year 2012. The noted statistical data, compiled in the report entitled “School Enrollment 2012” also noted that non-Hispanic white enrollment declined by 1.1 million. These declines may be correlated to many factors, but in today’s economic, social and political climate, the costs of enrollment are being weighed by students, parents and college administrators more than ever before.

Obtaining a higher education in the United States has never been more expensive; at a typical four-year public university, average fees and tuition can top $8000, while yearly tuition and fees at many four-year private institutions can top $25,000. At many of the nation’s elite institutions of higher learning, a yearly tuition bill of over $40,000 is not atypical when room and board are counted. At both public and private schools, the increases in tuition and fees beyond inflation have been astonishing, according to statistical data compiled by The College Board.

Student aid has been declining, and consequently, students have been forced to fund more and more of the costs of obtaining a higher education in the United States. Even while the federal government invests roughly $150 billion dollars a year in student financial aid (The states collectively invest $70 billion dollars a year in public colleges and universities), the affordability factor impacts the decision of many whether to enter college or not.

One initiative that may help students in their decision-making about whether to attend college are the proposed New College Ratings. The US Department of Education has been tasked to develop, before the year 2015, a college rating system that will rate colleges on Access (number of students receiving Pell Grants, etc.), Affordability (average tuition, student loan debt, scholarships) and Outcomes (graduation rates, transfer rates, graduate earnings). The intent of the rating system is to provide transparent and critical information about the functionality of the higher education system in the United States.

Any decline in college enrollment is a cause for concern, and a decline in African-American college enrollment is doubly concerning. There is pressure on all institutions of higher education to attract, retain and train the best and brightest students, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s) are no exception. Rising tuition, the growth of non-profit and other non-traditional institutions of learning have placed pressure on the enrollment numbers at some HBCU’s; some students, when they choose to enroll, have enrolled at Predominantly White Institutions, or PWI’s.

Anecdotally speaking, there are many individuals that have opted out of obtaining a higher education solely due to the costs. While these individuals are hard-working citizens, they have made a decision to not participate in obtaining a higher education because, among other reasons (a) They do not have the financial resources (b) They do not have the debt capacity (c) They are concerned about the value of their education, should they choose to enroll and complete their studies. These individuals know and hear about the unemployed and underemployed Ph.D.’s, M.D’s and J.D’s, and they question whether their own experience with higher education will bear any economic fruit.

Taken together, the economic, social and political costs of enrolling (and completing) higher education in this country are under pressure, as students and parents are concerned about the pressures on their investments in higher education – They are concerned about the payoff. As one scholar told me in conversation, “back in my day, you went to college because you knew that there would be a return on your investment – today, not so much.”

So much for an educated consumer.

One thought on “Is College Too Expensive?

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