Burden of Tuition Rises for Everyone

Jacob McIntyre, Staff Writer

According to the Value Penguin, the average student loan debt is $32,000 and only increasing year after year. Government or social action must be taken to reduce the burden of college debt to college students and society. Currently, a debt trap exits where failing college or picking the wrong major can lead to difficulty in dislodging debt. College prices and the cost of providing education are rising as more students compete for a limited number of spots. Not addressing these issues will lead to an increasing burden on people, even with government support to pay off these kinds of loans.

States are beginning to recognize these issues and have taken steps to solve the problem. State funded programs can cost up to $100 million annually in subsidizing tuition costs with only limited success. Currently, this type of government subsidy is not working for a fact often overlooked by proponents: College admission is currently a zero-sum game. According to Brookings, “College subsidy programs act through changes in demand: who considers attending these colleges and where they apply and ultimately enroll. However, they do not explicitly affect supply.” The cost of sending students to college will remain high to society unless a greater supply of college education is created. Until then, this direct solution for college degrees remains short term.

There is another issue with college degrees. The reason people are still going to college in greater numbers even as tuition has increased by 50 percent is because most college degrees, if completed, lead to a massive increase in life-long earnings. This presents two issues; not all degrees have equal monetary value, and not all college degrees are completed. Many programs, especially federal programs, will lump the high and low earning degrees together. Taking out $10,000 for a computer science degree is unlikely to trap the student in a debt cycle, but an art degree is far riskier, something rarely accounted for. General reforms, like the aforementioned state programs, encourage more students to commit to a college degree with no risk to themselves if they fail. Society will still take on that cost of education, creating a massive financial burden on the state.

The solutions to this problem could be more social in nature. Already more schools and communities are putting out information on the costs and benefits of college, and encouraging pursing majors that are more directly profitable, notably STEM, which set up for consistently high paying careers. This solution has many advantages, as it has little to no direct costs whether it fails or succeeds and has a quick impact. The overall benefits are hard to measure, and it would take years to see which methods of communication to students are effective, even if those students could be tracked. It is still a good option for schools, which can put this type of information directly in the hands of students likely to go to college.

Government solutions are more difficult to analyze. Proponents of heavy government support to students say these programs would help society as a whole by eliminating growing debt. There is no disputing that it would help struggling college students, but it is hard to say whether it will reduce the cost and burden of education on society. Already state-run programs have failed, costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars every year, and there is no way to know if federal programs will be better. That is not to say that there is no way to help college students and families out of overwhelming debt, but those solutions would have to be well thought out and require more data, and such solutions are far off. This leaves a social solution where schools help students make the right college decisions as the best option right now.

Effectively allocating resources on an individual or government level is rarely an easy task, and that remains true here. Solving the college debt crisis will take a combination of solutions, but right now social solutions and spreading information about good college decisions is the surest way to help. Cost effective government solutions remain far off, but there are still many ways to reduce the impact of college debt on students.