In 1965, Yale and Princeton raised their tuition, making them the most expensive Ivy League schools at the time. The hefty price tag? Just $1950 a year. Even accounting for inflation that would only amount to about $14,350 in 2013 dollars. Tuition at Princeton is now north of $40,000 a year, and it is close to $60,000 a year at institutions like University of Chicago or Sarah Lawrence College. Even in-state tuition at public college averages over $13,000 year, making the price of a “cheap” bachelor’s degree well over $50,000.
The typical response to how college tuition has been regularly outpaced inflation is to call for increasing available financial aid. Leaving aside well-founded concerns that increased aid actually fuels rising tuition, there are other problems with this approach. Chief among them is the fact that most financial aid comes in the form of federally subsidized loans. Increased financial aid does not usually mean decreasing the cost of college; it means increasing the debt incurred by students.
As I’ve written before, American students and graduates now carry a collective $1 trillion in student loan debt, and black students hold a disproportionate amount. The rising number of people with bachelor’s degrees actually decreases their competitive value. In too many cases, individuals go deeply in debt for degrees that do little to make them more employable. The issue of rising debt goes beyond finances. Graduates facing large student loan balances delay marriage, home ownership and other stabilizing life decisions. Increased financial aid promises increase these problems.
Yet, some leaders have taken a different approach. Both Texas and Florida are trying to lower the actual cost of a four year degree without further burdening their taxpayers. Last year, Governor Perry and Governor Scott issued a challenge to their public university systems to make a bachelor’s degree available for $10,000 or less. Using a combination of online course work and other creative methods, 22 colleges between the two states have developed proposals to make this a reality. Majors were limited, but they included subjects like chemistry, information technology, mathematics and computer science.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.