The cost of higher ed in the U.S. is more than it’s worth

In the March 28 issue of the Economist, a special report was published examining global universities and the opportunity costs for students attending such institutions. The report is titled “The whole world is going to university – is it worth it?” and identifies the frustrating struggle of universities’ strive for excellence and the overpricing of a bachelor level education. America has had a tremendous impact on higher education and research throughout the world, and as identified by the Economist’s report, spending on this ostensible life “milestone” has increased from 1.3 percent of GDP in 2000 to 1.6 percent in 2011. Many flaws exist within the cutthroat environment of post secondary school graduates are forced into. Today’s economy is a state where more and more employers refuse to hire prospects that do not carry that shiny and yearned for college diploma.

The cost of higher education in the United States is monumentally more than it is worth. Deciding to invest in college is a big decision, but it does offer a return of approximately 15 percent a year for someone who works until the age of 65. Even though a bachelor’s degree does have a slight guarantee of obtaining a better job than one could get with only a secondary school degree, the debt students endure makes the light at the end of the tunnel very faint. It is also unfair that commuting or taking a year or two out before attending college is looked down upon by the masses as a waste of time.

The biggest problem with the façade of a picturesque American university lifestyle is that students in America begin to only see college as a way of life rather than a place that enhances knowledge and supposedly eases the career search post graduation. Many students attend college solely for the parties and a break away from home, rather than to use it as a learning environment. This is shown by the fact that in 1995, America had the highest graduation rate in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and now it falls behind seven other countries. Nowadays, university graduates are below the OECD averages in numeracy and literacy. America spends too much time advertising university as an aesthetic place that students should fall in love with, rather than emphasizing the positive impacts graduates from each university have on the world and luring applicants in through relevant and necessary information. It is great if a student loves their college, but the reasons for loving it should extend to more than just the freedom of living outside your parents home. Instead of forcing the notion that moving to college is anything like living in the real world, universities should be improving teaching styles and lowering the cost of attendance.

In the majority of European countries, the state pays 80-100 percent of the costs of tuition. It works efficiently in northern Europe while facing troubles in southern Europe, but students and families are generally happy with this model. Not as many people are breaking their backs trying to pay for the average total cost of $46,000 that private colleges in the United States are charging per year. Public university budgets are not much better, with the average amount of money going towards a year of education being approximately $23,400. According to researcher Sandy Baum of higher education finances at Urban Institute, an NPR article recorded that “one way to make tuition prices go up more slowly is to make room and board go up more rapidly.” The cheapest meal plan at universities amounts to spending $24 a day on food – which is twice what the average American spends per day on food. Living on campus turns out to be tremendously more expensive than living in an off campus apartment and grocery shopping, which is surprising considering dining hall food is hardly anything worth bragging about.

According to the College Data website, tuition is defined as “what colleges charge for the instruction they provide”. Other fees are charged for using on campus services as well as living and dining. Even though it is unlikely that tuition fees will have a sufficient reduction, policies should be invoked where students can see the complete breakdown of what the thousands of dollars they are spending is going towards. It is unfair if student debt is funding the excessive payroll of a university president or spent on marketing to reel applicants in from all over the world. American universities need to refocus on equity and outcomes. Graduates should generate a return on their college investment that is satisfactorily comparable to the money and time lost during the process.





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