The Cost of University Tuition

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For many higher education students, tuition costs appear to be too expensive. Writing for the Atlantic Monthly online, Lara Seligman offers a concise summary of the problem: “Nationally, 57 percent of students who earned bachelor’s degrees in 2011 from public four-year colleges graduated with debt, and the average debt per borrower was $23,800 – up from $20,100 a decade earlier. By Sept. 30, 2011, 9.1 percent of borrowers who entered repayment in 2009-10 defaulted on their federal student loans, the highest default rate since 1996.”

In fact, it’s not uncommon for students to leave school with upwards of $50,000 in university tuition debt. Given the weak job market, new graduates find it harder than ever to pay off their student loans.

Our national university tuition crisis has prompted an array of suggestions from across the political spectrum.

In 2011, Texas governor Rick Perry called on his state’s institutions to come up with a college degree for only $10,000. Now, a few schools are attempting to meet the challenge.

Seligman cites the example of Angelo State University, located in San Angelo, Texas, where “admissions will begin in January for a four-year interdisciplinary-studies program, through which students can combine three separate minors into one bachelor’s degree for an overall cost of $9,974. Students must have an ACT score of 27 or above to enter the program and maintain at least a 3.0 grade-point average to continue.”

The Texas effort has both supporters and skeptics.

The article quotes Daniel Hurley, Director of State Relations and Policy Analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, as saying, “I question an artificially set benchmark of $10,000.” His main concern seems to be the issue of quality and credibility, especially for potential employers.

“’I think that the universities would really have to go out of their way . . . to clearly communicate to the employer community that the quality of the degree is not compromised,” Hurley said, adding that “employers recognize that ‘you get what you pay for.’”

Personally, I’ve sat on both sides of the interview table several times. Strangely, the dollar value of a degree has never once come up. One wonders how many employers ask their applicants how much they paid for their university tuition. Meanwhile in Florida, Governor Rick Scott has taken Perry’s cue with a cheap college initiative of his own. The idea is to freeze tuition for students in preferred majors like engineering and biotechnology.

According to The New York Times, “Governor Scott and Republican lawmakers are prodding Florida’s 12 state universities to find ways to steer students toward majors that are in demand in the job market. The message from Tallahassee could not be blunter: Give us engineers, scientists, health care specialists and technology experts. Do not worry so much about historians, philosophers, anthropologists and English majors.”

Their intentions are good, but this utilitarian approach may be deeply misguided. A businessman turned politician, Rick Scott assumes that universities should be factories for job training and career preparation. Scott and his supporters view the purpose of a higher education in a unilateral way.

For many young people trying to figure out how to pay for college, the outlook is bleak. But for working adults, the picture is looking much better, thanks to innovative startups like UniversityNow. Writing for Co.EXIST, Ariel Schwartz reports: “UniversityNow announced this week that it’s teaming up with the mayors of San Francisco, Oakland, and Sacramento, California, for the College Works Initiative, which caps the cost of attending UniversityNow’s schools at whatever students receive in tuition reimbursement from their employers.”

That would provide a smart solution for countless working adults, so long as they remain employed and their employers keep reimbursing their tuition costs.

Texas, Florida, and UniversityNow share a common concern for the price that students pay for education. But they hardly take the same approach. I guess we’ll see if there is a winner or if all (or none) of them succeed.

Written by: Michael Mussman
Michael is a regular contributor to the Ashford University blog.

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