Lowering the cost of public college is essential and reasonable

Illustration by Tom Foody

Ethan Kuhstoss, Contributing Writer

$40,000.

That’s the average cost of public university tuition over a four year period. That number doesn’t account for housing, fees, student loan interest, textbooks and the many other expenses associated with attending college. When taking these costs into consideration, a bachelor’s degree can cost more than $400,000.

For the majority of students — primarily low-income students of color — salvaging these costs is simply not feasible, saddling young professionals with overwhelming debt.

To ensure that hard-working students can obtain higher education while affording basic needs, it is imperative to vastly reduce or eliminate the cost of public four-year universities before it is entirely unobtainable for lower-income Americans.

Over 60% of all college graduates receive their diplomas from public institutions according to the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. Despite the clear necessity of public colleges, a 2020 study from the College Board found that their exorbitant prices have caused the average graduate to saddle $27,000 in debt.

The National Center for Education Statistics revealed that, when adjusted for inflation, the annual cost to attend a public four-year institution has increased by over 148% since 1970. However, the average household income has not kept pace; with an increase in income of only 48.6%, families today have a far more difficult time financing their childrens’ education than the previous generation.

Public colleges earn hundreds of millions of dollars every year from tuition and federal subsidies, yet fail to return their services in an affordable manner. In turn, the totality of student debt has passed $1.73 trillion.

As American student loan debt totals surpass Canada’s GDP, the racial wealth gap also continues to widen. In 2020, Black Americans were the group most likely to be paying off student loan debt and to be behind on payments.

65% of Black students are financially independent and have the highest rate of full-time employment compared to other groups of students, according to a 2018 study from the United Negro College Fund. Moreover, this leaves them more vulnerable to the socio-economic effects of COVID-19, as job insecurity can make or break their ability to afford college.

It isn’t as simple as choosing a cheaper school, either. A study from the Institute for Higher Educational Policy revealed that lower-income students can only afford one to five percent of colleges; compounded with the fact that poor families have a shorter travel radius due to a lack of transportation, it’s clear why college is so unobtainable for so many.

With the infeasibility of higher education, it is no surprise that the United States’ college graduation rates are quickly falling behind other developed nations. In a 2012 OECD study, America scored 19th out of 28 countries.

One of the most common concerns about lowering the cost of public universities is that higher education would lose its value. Thus, American students display their willingness to “go the extra mile” by putting their financial security at risk, showing future employers that they are prepared to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals.

This is an inaccurate and biased system, however. Poorer students assume far more risk and stress by enrolling in college, yet the end result appears the same. Can we really call America a meritocracy if disadvantaged populations have to work harder to get to the same position as those born more privileged than them?

Higher education significantly improves personal income, leading to increased revenue for every level of government through taxation. Additional spending money also stimulates more economic activity. Throughout their lifetime, bachelor’s degree holders inject $278,000 more into local economies than those who only graduated high school.

There are a number of avenues the government can pursue to lower the cost of public higher education. In addition to improving economic activity, Sen. Bernie Sanders’, I-V.T., Tax on Wall Street Speculation Act illustrates how we can raise $2.4 trillion for educational funding in the next decade.

The act gains funding through the implementation of taxes under 1% on the trade of stocks, bonds and derivatives. Considering the price tag of public universities is $79 billion annually, Sanders’ plan would solely fund the price of tuition. This legislation is not unprecedented, either; financial transaction taxes (FTT) were imposed in America from 1914 to 1965, demonstrating that such a plan is feasible.

The ethical, rational and feasible decision to lower the price of public universities has been delayed for far too long. The American government has a moral obligation to ensure equality for academic opportunities to disadvantaged populations.

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