Soaring College Prices

By Sophia Christensen 

College can be an intimidating step in life nowadays ––irrelevant to the stress of potentially starting over with a new beginning, rather due to students’ fiscal inabilities to cover the cost of tuition. College prices have risen exponentially since the 1970s, and (trigger warning) I’m sure every senior can relate to stressing over tuition, financial aid, and applying for student grants, loans, and scholarships. The reason the newest generation of students worry so much over the price of college is because of how the college prices have surpassed the inflation rate and the cost of living. Inflation is the typical rate of increase in prices, depending on goods and services––prices are supposed to adjust according to the increased rate of inflation. For example, in 1996 Penn State tuition cost $11,240 whereas tuition today costs $35,984, and with the help of a CPI Inflation Calculator, Penn State tuition should only be $18,660 today when properly adjusted to inflation. The problem of college prices is worse now than ever because they have risen more than twice the rate of inflation. According to Erik Sherman, author of Zenger News, the average cost of a four-year college or university rose by 497% since 1985. It has become nearly impossible for students to afford attending four-year colleges or universities. A multitude of students have to fall back on to two-year schools after high school because they cannot afford going to a four-year college. However, even with a fall back plan, the tuition of two-year schools have risen 320% since 1985 as well–– drastically higher than the rate of inflation. 

There are a plethora of reasons as to why college prices surpass inflation by such a high percentage, one of the reasons being a decrease in state funding for colleges and universities. With rising prices of essentials such as healthcare and pensions, the state tends to focus their funding on those essentials while  cutting  funds for education. With the rise of student loan usage, states’ political agendas disregard the importance of  education, and colleges think they can keep their extremely high prices or even continue raising them since students have the support of loans.  Students have become encouraged and frankly forced to take out huge chunks of student loans in order to attend college. It has become nearly impossible for students to pay for college and let alone pay off their student debt. According to Melanie Hanson, an educator, research analyst, and the senior editor for, student loan debt exceeded inflation by 41% as student loan debt increased 76% since the Class of 2000. College prices have been increasing at an exponential rate, paralleling the national total student loan debt balance, which has grown 602.5% since 2003. Student debt is a serious issue in America that has caused many students to go down a pit of feeling comfortable falling back on loans and then dealing with the consequences of debt later in life. 

People might devaluet the worth of college degrees relative to the inflating student debt, but college impacts on professions in modern society greatly increase. Although it comes down to preference and outside influence, college remains a very traditional and important path for this very reason: the higher the degree, the more likely you will possess a larger income. According to federal Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, the median weekly earning for someone with a high school diploma was $746, and someone with a bachelor’s degree earned $1,248. Whatever your opinion is or your preferred future path, a majority of people depend on college and a higher degree in order to work for their preferred job and make enough money to survive. However, the insanely high college prices make that goal almost impossible to reach considering how much the prices outpace inflation. 

The fact that college prices have gone up tremendously the past few decades whereas inflation rates and salaries for minimum wage jobs stays relatively steady is absurd. Society has always been taught to go to college and work for a good education in order to get a job and settle, however that seems like a lot to ask for considering the horrible ratio between economics, the growing college prices, and the insane student debt numbers. The government has been covering costs for low income students significantly less over the past couple decades when they need the help now more than ever. Students and families keep making sacrifices in order to meet the burden of college prices. In order to make college more available to students, the federal government needs to interfere more through funding and overall making education opportunities more realistic by: lowering tuition (adjusting to inflation), easing student debt, or providing resources that lower the cost of college essentials.