Wednesday, August 18, 2004
For the past two decades, the cost of college has skyrocketed to heights most lower- and many middle-income families cannot afford. In Mississippi, and all over the country, financial aid (both state and federal) and scholarships are not meeting the costs of college. Every year, some part of the cost of higher education increases, whether it's a state school or private school, and yet, no legislature, or governor or even really the president, has made any significant change in this growing problem. With a post-secondary education becoming mandatory for almost every career field, it is time the government stepped up before the American people fall behind.
Last year, two members of Congress released The College Cost Crisis analyzing college costs. Rep. John A. Boehner & Rep. Howard P. McKeon (both Republicans) found that regardless of the economy's status, college costs are continuously rising. Tuition costs are rising at a faster rate than inflation, income increases and state and federal aid by three to four times. In the last 10 years, the cost of higher ed has increased 38 percent on average for both private and public colleges and universities. In Mississippi, between 2001-2002 year and 2003-2004, costs rose 9 percent for two-year institutions and 10 percent for four-year institutions, while state aid only increased 1 percent. This only hurts lower- and middle-income families, who depend on aid and whose income does not rise very often.
But where is all the money going? Is it going to build new buildings or to fund the football team? Well, hopefully not, because in most institutions, that money comes from donations and endowments. Is it going to scholarships for students? Once again, this money is usually from donations and funds set up by rich alumni. What about utilities? Someone's got to keep the water running and the lights on, so part of your money is used for that, as well as to pay faculty and staff. But many believe, and are unfortunately proven right, that higher-ups in college administration do not spend the money wisely, with great gaps in rates of pay and long lists on "expense reports."
The people who end up paying for it are the students and their parents. Many parents take an extra job or squeeze their budget a whole lot tighter, and many students are forced to work more. But that's the American way: working to better yourself. Of course, 40-hour weeks with a full class load take a toll on a human's body, and where can anyone find time for all the extracurricular activities needed for the resume to get into graduate school? Because even though a college education gets you in the work force, a master's is the only thing, in many occupations, that will get you moving up.
In a sense, college has become a new monopoly. College is the standard for anyone looking to work past McDonald's. And colleges have paid attention. They know you need them, and you'll keep coming back 'cause they have what you need. The University of Mississippi's Web site says that the total cost of college for an in-state resident, based on no financial aid, is about $13,000 a year. Now, using a "College Cost Calculator" at theoldschool.org, the average cost for Ole Miss in 25 years will be $189,000 for all four years! That's what many lower income families make in 10!
The government wants colleges to decrease their costs—start cutting corners and spending money in the right places. Theoretically, this could happen. A handful of colleges have decreased tuition so they appeal to a larger group and, in turn, enroll more students, which would keep things running smoothly. But what kind of example is the government setting when it won't cut back an $80 billion budget for a war most people don't agree with? Regardless of how low they cut tuition, it will still keep many lower- and middle-income people out of college and in minimum-wage jobs.
Next plan: Students and parents could boycott higher education. This movement would take too much coordination and throw too many people into the work force at once (seeing as most parents would enforce the rule "If you don't go to college, you've got to get a job). Then, the cycle of ignorance would only continue.
My plan: Free higher education for all. I'll compromise on this one. Students pay for room and board, a cheap meal plan and books, but the government absorbs the costs of state-funded education. Most people would say this would affect the quality of higher education. I disagree: Governments of countries all over the world pay for college, and those students rank higher in scores of many fields. Many countries won't even accept our bachelor's degree as a college degree, but rather as something to the effect of extended high school.
College has become the new high school, meaning that the majority of better-paying jobs require a degree above high school; therefore, society and the job market have made college compulsory. People who could greatly improve their lives through college are not given the opportunity due to finances, so these people are continuing a cycle of poverty and welfare that Republicans cry out about every time we need a tax cut. If the government would give them an opportunity to better themselves through a free college education, then a lot of other things would cut back.
Job training is not necessarily enough. People can learn how to do a job, but a true education will make people feel as if they earned and worked at something. Learning how to operate a forklift in a few classes won't have the same empowerment as a college education. People will still have the opportunity for a private school education, and we know those schools will charge as much as they can, but they aren't under the same government regulations as public schools, so they can do as they please. Foreign countries with free post-secondary education still have private schools that do really well.
My plan is a socially idealistic plan, but a plan, nonetheless. Will this ever happen? Maybe in 25 years when Ole Miss costs over $40,000 a year, but until then, colleges have to step up and figure something out, or the government will intervene (as so threatened by Boehner and McKeon in their report). College has no longer become a privilege, but a necessity to a prominent, or at least livable, future.
Kate Jacobson is Millsaps College junior and the managing editor of the Purple and White.
"Free Higher Education for All" amen kate, good work