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Education inflation

As costs rise, college out of reach

By Clint Vogus Special to the Democrat-Gazette

This article was published July 31, 2014 at 3:52 a.m.

When I went to college a generation ago, I was able to work during the summer and earn enough to pay for tuition and books for the year, and even have a little money left over for living expenses.

This is no longer possible.

In the past two decades, higher education has changed significantly. Some of those changes include:

Since 1980 the cost of a college education has increased by 252 percent, while the median family income has increased by only 121.7 percent.

From 1978 to today, the cost of higher education has risen more than four times faster than inflation, even outpacing the rise in health-care costs.

From 2000 to 2013, the cost of college tuition and fees increased by 121 percent, while general inflation increased by 35 percent.

The U.S. household median income has fallen by over 7 percent during the past six years from $54,892 to $51,017. A college education is now out of reach for more Americans than since the end of the Second World War.

A recent Pew Research poll found that over 57 percent of all Americans said colleges fail to provide students with good value for the money spent.

The total amount of student-loan debt is now approaching $1.2 trillion, representing the second-largest category of consumer debt after mortgages, with the average per student over $33,000.

Forty percent of the students who attend college drop out, often incurring student-loan debt. Fifty-seven percent of those who do not graduate have student-loan debt.

The default rate on student loans in now 14 percent.

Today many college students, due to student loan debt and limited job availability, are moving back in with their parents after graduation. These young adults are now postponing marriage, having children and purchasing their own home.

According to the New York Federal Reserve Bank, 44 percent of Americans between the ages of 22 and 27 with at least a bachelor's degree held jobs that do not require a college degree. At the same time, there are many high-paying jobs not requiring a college degree that go unfilled for lack of qualified candidates.

The U.S. is continuing to fall behind many other counties in academic achievement while spending more per student than any other country, and many higher-education institutions are not adequately preparing students for today's career opportunities.

For several generations a college education has been the ticket to a better life. This is why people have continued to seek a college education even while costs have far outpaced inflation.

Against this backdrop, it is time to re-examine higher education from a number of perspectives--cost, job opportunities for college graduates, dropout rates, effectiveness, and alternatives.

Some questions that should be asked include:

• Why has the cost of higher education increased much more than inflation over the past several decades?

• What are the long-term social and economic effects of the increasing student-loan debt?

• What is the primary purpose of higher education?

• Should everyone go to college?

• Is a college education necessary to earn a good living and lead a fulfilling life?

• Why are so many recent college graduates having difficulty finding a good-paying job?

• Why is the U.S. falling behind other countries in higher educational achievement while spending much more per student?

• Are there some alternatives to going to college?

• What college should I attend? Does it matter?

• Are online courses and programs a good way to earn a college degree?

• Can I go to college without incurring student-loan debt?

As we become more aware of these issues and begin to examine them, we will be better prepared to make our own higher-education decision that is the best one for us.

Our challenge is to open our thinking from traditional "one size fits all" approach. Each one of us is unique, and therefore need to forge our own path to our future.

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Clint Vogus is an instructor at Arkansas State University and author of A Current View of Higher Education.

Editorial on 07/31/2014

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