Why The Middle Class is Struggling To Pay For College
Among the nation’s most prestigious private schools, the very best in the private school world, roughly 75 percent of the nation’s top universities are actually not affordable for the middle and lower income students living in America, The New York Times reported.
Unfortunately, these prestigious public universities often impose costs on students of extraordinary levels. A dozen public universities were ranked at places in the top 25 public universities in the country, with none charging less than $25,000 per year for tuition and mandatory fees.
These universities accepted students who came from highly income groups (highest quartile of U.S. household income), wealthy families (who earned more than $140,000 per year), or who attended colleges and universities highly selective enough to receive institutional aid, with many institutions granting a combination of financial aid and grants.
This was most apparent among the state’s universities. Four of the top public universities, University of California, Los Angeles, Yale University, Harvard University, and University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (SCHolly), maintained tuition rates of between $40,000 and $40,000 annually. Harvard charged a more than $49,000 per year, not including room and board. The middle class students were offered grants that allowed many of them to easily afford tuition at these prestigious schools. Those families earning less than $100,000 per year were faced with a higher level of expenses.
Even more concerning, many public schools of lower income are also charging exorbitant tuition costs. The eight public universities below are enrolling students with tuition rates of between $15,000 and $15,000 annually, but some are even charging more. The $22,000 per year tuition rate at American University, for example, is out of reach for many low-income students. Public schools that serve even a small portion of the low-income population do not have the revenue to even offer modest assistance.
Public colleges that cost far less than much of the country’s elite universities are also losing their advantage to private colleges and universities that are no longer as expensive. From the 1970s to the 2000s, public colleges increased their tuition as well as subsidies to middle and lower income students, increasing their total costs considerably.
Low-income students still being unable to afford college is indicative of a bigger picture. During the late 1990s, federal financial aid programs encouraged colleges to charge much higher fees, resulting in many low-income students choosing colleges with high fees over low tuition. If these policies had not been changed, some public schools’ tuition fees would be now higher than top private schools’ tuition and fees.
Such a history points out the need for significant reforms of the entire system of financial aid that schools have relied on to provide affordable college options for low-income students. Private universities that add auxiliary charges for housing, and more, often also add in additional costs to students, too. Because the cost of education is an extremely expensive endeavor, many students not in the top decile for family income have turned away from college simply because it has become too expensive.
These students simply have an enormous amount of homework to do to pay for college. They have to work at minimum wage jobs, usually out of campus (and often taking off days to get to work), help their parents and siblings with money, take extra classes to fulfill federal educational financial requirements, and often balance school and career. Often, they have little free time and often work out of fear of “losing out” in a competition.
That worries some economists, who fear that a system that places so much emphasis on low-income students will ultimately end up giving these students few other options besides going to college.
Many low-income and middle-income students tend to seek higher education because they want to serve their families, themselves, and the world. It’s no wonder that the majority of such students put off college until they get a little older. If these young people can’t afford college when they are in high school and college applicants can’t afford college on their own, isn’t it time to overhaul the entire education system to make higher education more affordable for all American families?