Why is college so expensive? There are a lot of reasons — growing demand, rising financial aid, lower state funding, the exploding cost of administrators, bloated student amenities packages. The most expensive colleges — Columbia, Vassar, Duke — will run you well over $50K a year just for tuition. That doesn’t even include housing! The cost of college is out of control. So what can you do to fix it? Well, nothing really, but if you’re smart, you can work around it, especially with the opportunities afforded by the growing online college sector. We’ll find out why college is so expensive, and we’ll tell you how you can cut costs.
The cost of college is crazy. Take it from us. This is all we do and we’re constantly blown away by the eye-popping pricetag for some college degrees.
Do you know that tuition for public colleges alone more than quadrupled between 1980 and 2015?
According to CNBC, college tuition was far more affordable for older generations. Citing figures from College Board, CNBC reports that, adjusting for inflation, the cost of private schools rose by 129% since the 1980s. The cost of public school rose by an even more staggering 213%.
By contrast, wages across the board have increased by just 67% since the 1970s. A college degree still provides advantages to its holder, but Business Insider, concedes that these advantages are lesser than they were just a decade ago.
Meanwhile, according to CNBC, students graduate with an average of $37,172 each. All of this amounts to $1.5 trillion in collective student loan debt shared amongst 44 million Americans.
Since we’re all here to learn, I’ll ask a purely academic question. Why is college so freakin’ expensive? And why does the cost continue to climb if the value proposition is on the decline?
I’m not an economist, so I won’t make any font-bold predictions about this big education bubble bursting any time soon. Even with these shrinking advantages, graduates still earn more than non-grads over the course of a lifetime.
But what are some of the causes behind this explosion in cost, and what can you, as the consumer, do about it?
If you just want to skip to the part where we tell you about the cheapest online schools, go ahead and check out The Most Affordable Online Colleges for Bachelor’s Degrees.
If, instead, you’d like to learn more about the deeply ingrained and overlapping reasons college is so expensive, here they are:
It turns out that the insane cost of college is a condition somewhat unique to the United States. An article from The Atlantic points out that the combined contributions of individuals, families and government amount to roughly $30,000 in expenses per student per year. This, reports The Atlantic, is about double the average amount per student across the rest of the industrialized world. There is no evidence that this expense has produced superior academic outcomes or professional opportunities.
There is, however, some evidence that our collective desire for the all-frills college experience plays a role. American universities are unique for the residential comforts they offer (and charge for). Items classified as ancillary services — climbing walls, state-of-the-art mega-student centers, seriously pimped-out dormitories — these things do cost money.
According to The Atlantic, American taxpayers float more than $3,000 per year per student for these ancillary services alone. This is three times the average for such expenses in the rest of the developed world. The Atlantic does point out that residential campus experiences are more commonplace in the U.S. — that a largely proportion of students in Europe and Canada may not leave home for an on-campus living experience. In other words, college is different here. College is intended as a more comprehensive life experience as opposed to just an academic one. This experience does carry with it the inherent costs of widespread on-campus residency.