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Published on October 4th, 2010 | by Staff 12-13

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Bang for your buck? How college tuition shoots the middle class down

We live for our future. We work hard balancing APs, sports, music, art, community service, part-time jobs and other extracurricular activities. And for what? To get into a good college.

The trouble, however, is when we get accepted into the school of our dreams, and we discover there is no way that we can afford our complete tuition. Most schools assure us financial aid and student loans will cover the rest. While we’d like to believe them, the reality isn’t quite as friendly.

Let’s start with the statement “college is expensive.” That’s true. But everyone knows that. We can go even further to say that “College is so expensive, most students go into debt just to pay off their bachelor’s degree.” Also true.

This summer, the U.S. Department of Education posted a list of the debt repayment figures for every college in the nation. Penn State University came in third with $590 million in total student debt. Second on the list was the University of Southern California with $631 million and finally in first place was New York University with a modest $659 million.

In fact, NYU’s student debt is bigger than the gross domestic product of 12 countries combined, according to the Department of Education.

As if that weren’t enough, the cost of private tuition has gone up 154 percent since 1979, and 186% for public tuition. This would be fine if family income increased at this rate as well. Unfortunately, it hasn’t. Since 1979 family income has only gone up by a measly 10%, according to the US Census Bureau and the College Board.

This means that while college is getting ridiculously more expensive and students are expected to pay thousands more than they were ten years ago, income isn’t making any sorts of leaps or bounds to meet that gap. The estimated undergraduate tuition is slipping farther and farther away from what families can pay.

Luckily, if you are labeled as “upper class,” chances are you have lots of savings and will be able to make the shift without twitching an eyelid. And if you are lower class, making less than $60,000, your schooling is virtually taken care of because of financial aid and grants. You aren’t expected to pay a sum that will likely cut your income in half. This seems fair for the upper and lower class.

But what about the middle class? The middle class undoubtedly receives the worst end of the deal. Let’s create a hypothetical middle class family.

If a two-wage earning family of five who lives in California, has an adjusted gross income of $120,000, and pays $17,000 in US income taxes, $2,000 in medical and dental expenses, has cash of $5,000 and investments of $12,000, then the parents’ estimated contribution is between $13,000 and $18,000. Now factor in years of unemployment and the high cost of living in a city like Santa Monica. How can this family pay $18,000 without going into debt? They can’t.

The United States is facing a crisis. Hundreds of thousands of students are emerging out of college with five or six digit loans strapped to their backs—and this is just to earn their bachelor’s degrees. They aren’t flowing into high-income jobs. Instead, they are average educators, artists, business professionals and salespeople who will make a decent income but will unlikely ever make the jump to upper class. And this of course is assuming that all of these trained professionals will get jobs in our current economy.

Essentially we are creating a new level of society with college-trained individuals who have no foreseeable future for betterment. We are crippling our future.
College is expensive.

Luckily there are also thousands of different scholarships available to help make up a fraction of the difference. My advice: apply for as many as you can. Working hard is a much better alternative to drowning in even more debt a little farther along the road. True, the middle class might have to work harder for these. But these extra bonuses are available. It’s a long shot, but nevertheless, it’s a hope.

Tessa Nath
Feature Editor


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