The Lifelong Hangover: College Debt

Imagine the 1980s, a decade where style reigned supreme. The era of Madonna, a provocateur of pop and fashion and culture, and Michael Jackson, a trendsetter musician who changed the contours of American culture. Now imagine the 2020s, the era where technology has taken over to such a degree that people are rediscovering the 80s and the 90s considering it has a significant influence on the generation. While on one end everything from the 1980s is being reawakened, the then affordable college fees are getting out of reach.


For young adults, one thing more difficult than getting accepted into their dream college is paying for it. The education fees have skyrocketed in the past few decades leaving us with a perplexing question- why is college so expensive?


Students are put under the overwhelming pressure of “If you can dream it, you can do it.” for higher education and are encouraged to dream big and do well. In between this, people seem to forget that the burden aligns with the college’s tuition fees on a large scale. College education today depends majorly on three factors: financial cost, lack of knowledge and the fear of outcomes.


Financial Cost


Money being a sensitive topic is on everyone’s mind and especially, the college students who are constantly worrying and stressing about their college fees. But this stress is justifiable looking at the rate at which the prices are scaling high. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the cost per year for attending a four-year public university in 1985-86 was $3,859 while the cost for attending the same in 2018-19 is $20,598 which is a staggering rise of 534% which shows that the fees are skyrocketing with time and inflation. Attending a private four-year university in 1985-86 cost $9,228 and in 2018-19, $44,662 which is an astronomical rise of 484%. Even though everyday life is far more expensive than it was 30 years ago, we need to accept the fact that it cannot all be attributed to inflation only because the rate of rising inflation since 1980- 2020, 253% has been just about half of that of rising college tuition. The promise of landing great jobs after a college degree fuels the students to take up institutional loans. An overall of 54% of the college attendees is under debt. The problem with the loans lies with their repayment. It takes years of modest earnings to pay back such loans every month. Today, 14% of adults are still stuck with paying off the student loans that they took in college. If the college doesn’t end up with a good job, the student is left with the payment of some uncomfortably large debts.


Lack of Knowledge


Students tend to live with a lot of hopes and dreams without being realistic with their plans. Whenever they get a new idea, they tend to stick with it and change course randomly. However, it’s easier said than done. It is important to conduct a base and work on areas around it, finding their main interests eventually. Applying for a master's degree with a wrong bachelor’s degree is synonymous with throwing oneself in a pool without knowing how to swim! Reading all the literature provided to them is another important thing to focus on because a lot of students don’t even apply for scholarships thinking they won’t meet the requirements. Reservations and scholarships go alongside as being aware of these two factors can land students to good places where they can save a huge amount that they would have earlier invested.


Fear of Outcome

As we can see the price of the degree has doubled but has the wages increased? From $53,664 in 1985 to $68,703 in 2019, the real median household income rose by merely 128%, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis which is almost as one-fourth as the rise in college fees. The return of an expensive college degree is highly dubious. With 31% of college graduates being unemployed, 41% of college graduates take positions that don’t require a degree. This number is substantially increasing suggesting that graduates are agreeing to take less desirable positions than they used to, mainly because they don’t have many options in hand.


Every student has great plans for their college life, but what if your Plan A doesn’t work? It is of utmost importance for them to be mentally and physically prepared for a Plan B. Most of them have decided their goals and designed a premier pathway for success. But nowadays competitive exams have taken a new turn, so chances of things going as one have planned is only half the basket of hopes.


Taking into consideration the public institutions, the fees were comparatively lower. However, not many get the opportunity to study in a government college because of the seat constraints and the minimum eligibility requirement fixed by them. But with the government colleges turning autonomous, the fees are giving good competition to that of private institutions.


While there are certainly some benefits that go beyond employment, every college graduate at least expects a better career and a secured financial future from their college degrees. The students work hard to prepare their minds and soul for getting into a certain college to land up a good life. It may sound idealistic, but the old system of education isn’t paying off. An education system should be devised in the future in which students and schools share equally in the risk and the incentives to see both sides succeed. As we know, the system of setting fees for all colleges is not uniform. With no enactment proposed to control fees in private professional institutions, there is no looking back for the steeping fees. The introduction of strategies for controlling the fee structure in professional establishments needs to be set and there should be some norms according to which fees of all institutions are laid down.


While setting the fees of all institutions in a particular country, it is crucial to take into account the average family income and the rate of inflation. The admission examinations can be built in such fashion that it filters out the worthy candidates. Most of the students do not opt for higher education due to the high fees. With the help of a systematic regulation, this can be exempted because it is high time that our government makes certain decisions that can make the education system better and accessible for every common man!


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