College should not be this expensive

Photo of USC Doheny Library.
Pursuing higher education should be an opportunity to learn more about the world and yourself, not a financial burden (Sasha Ryu | Daily Trojan).

The United States is currently the most expensive country to go to college. With the growing desire of students to pursue higher education, the U.S. has taken advantage of this prospect and turned it into the ultimate business transaction.

The Education Data Initiative released a study showing that the cost of attending college has drastically increased in the U.S., with an annual growth rate of 6.8%. They also reported that the average cost per year for an in-state student attending a public university is $25,487, $43,161 for out-of-state universities and $53,217 for private universities. Let’s juxtapose these high numbers with the median annual household income: $67,521 in 2020. 

It is important to highlight the terribly high cost of attending a public university. These high costs are partly influenced by the lack of state funding, combined with the targeting and influx of full-paying students. Many of these institutions, both public and private, are marketed towards people who will pay the full price. This not only limits the acceptance rate for those asking for financial aid but consequently justifies higher tuition costs. Since universities know that there are a set of individuals who will pay for it, they will raise their prices. 

Simply look at the recent financial aid scandal between 16 of the nation’s top universities, who allegedly conspired together to reduce financial aid awards through methods of price-fixing. There are efforts being made within some of the world’s most “prestigious” institutions to ensure that there are as many full-paying students as possible. 

While USC prides itself on its merit and financial aid awards, the margin that many families are still expected to pay is universally considered high and forces a vast majority of students to take out student loans. 

Within the 2020 graduating class throughout the U.S., 55% of bachelor’s degree recipients took out student loans and graduated in debt. The average college loan borrower owed $38,792 in 2020 and reached a cumulative high of $1.58 trillion in debt. At the ripe age of 22, college grads are buried in debt. College is supposed to open doors and opportunities, not tie an individual down in 30 years of loan repayments. 

It is justified for students to want “the college experience” and everything that it entails. What is not justified is for college institutions, especially top-tier universities, to take advantage of that and make education incredibly financially inaccessible. 

In comparison, many European countries such as Norway, Finland, Sweden, Germany and Denmark offer free college tuition to public universities. Even China has significantly lower tuition rates relative to the U.S. The vast difference in prices when doing these side-by-side comparisons is not surprising considering the high costs of healthcare in the U.S., compared to the significantly lower or free costs in many of these other countries. The U.S. is notorious for attaching a hefty price tag to basic needs and wants. 

As college begins to get more expensive in America, it makes people wonder, is college really worth the price? For some jobs, such as a physician, a college education is fundamental. Similarly, many jobs outside of the STEM and medical fields, like corporate, law and education also require a college education. The value of college can also be seen through whether or not jobs are recruited from particular schools. The sheer number of people still going to college demonstrates that many people see the value in retaining a college degree. 

Much of a college education’s value can be derived from networking, research, academic and social opportunities, and there are not many other places where one can gain access to all of these things in the same place. However, there is also a sense of privilege that comes with acquiring a college degree in the sense that college graduates are more likely to get high-paying jobs relative to non-college graduates and with the high cost of attending university, these benefits are only accessible to those of higher socioeconomic status.

With the numerous factors that come into play when considering higher education, money should not be one of them. While the idea of success is subjective, having the discussion of whether or not it is worth going to college continues to remain unclear. However, what is clear is that the cost of attending college has become unnecessarily overwhelming.