It looks like students who have chosen to go to public schools may finally be getting a “break” this year when it comes to their tuition. Unfortunately it looks like that break is just a smaller increase in tuition compared to prior years, so you would actually have to question whether this is actually a break at all. State colleges are looking at an average tuition increase of around 2.9% in 2013, which is in fact the lowest increase in almost 30 years. The year before state colleges saw a tuition increase of around 4.5% and in prior years the increase had been as much as 7-8% a year! If we factor in inflation of about 2 percent, the increase is only a “real” increase of 0.9% above the cost of living increase. So while this isn’t that great of news, at least it is a trend in the right direction. The complete right direction would be seeing a slight drop in tuition levels or at least a freeze at their current levels.
The increase was also seen at community colleges, and their increase was slightly higher at 3.5% with private schools seeing an increase of 3.8% in their tuition. There is also the fact that even though federal loan money now may be easier to receive, the total amount of grant money (money that does not need to be paid back) was at $46 billion in 2011 compared to the high level of $51 billion back in 2008. So each tuition increase hits the actual student’s pocket harder either now, or through loan repayment later.
The problem with the current market for college is that even though we have seen these crazy tuition increases, the amount of people enrolling has not dropped at all and has in fact been increasing. There was a slight drop in 2011 but the demand for a college education has not really taken a serious hit. In many cases a college degree is worth and it and the increase in starting salary as well as chances of securing a job increasing in general. You can’t just go to college now expecting a guaranteed job to be handed to you upon graduation. You really have to work for it and apply yourself while working towards a relevant degree in a strong job market.
With the constant increases in cost, people have to start realizing that college just isn’t for everyone. Obviously just having a high school degree sets you back under normal circumstances, but there are plenty of trade schools and technical schools where you can learn or train in a skilled profession and do just as well if not better than a college graduate. It is drilled into our head in high school that you must go to college, and that just seems to be the only way to land jobs that you would never even think would require a degree. For most people I would agree that college is a great option, but you always want to be open to other options as well.
Another problem that is plaguing the rising costs of college is the guaranteed money from the government. Colleges essentially have incorporated this money into the cost of tuition fully knowing that the government will cover a certain percent of the costs. So why not charge what you were originally charging on top of the guaranteed money? And when the demand is still super high, why not continue to increase costs even further? You can only fit a limited amount of students into your college so if you are still receiving more qualified applicants than you can fit into the college there is no reason to decrease the costs. I’m not sure what the best way to approach this is, as grants and loans TO help students in need and I really can’t think of a better system (nor am I qualified to do so!) other than a complete overhaul. Earlier in the year I did write about a novel approach that Oregon is taking to combat the increased costs of college, so we will have to keep a close eye on that plan.