Appalachia Sanford opens a Student Voices essay with a Nelson Mandela quote, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” However, the costs of attending college have dramatically increased in the last decade, making it pricey for individuals to obtain higher education. So with that in mind, the larger question becomes, “Is college a right, or a privilege?” It’s a complex issue with many angles to analyze and address.
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Nelson Mandela famously declared: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. This is demonstrated in the wide range of educational focuses students attending college choose from and the countless careers and extracurricular activities pursued. According to the National Education for Education Statistics, about twenty million students enrolled in college in the fall of 2016, and increase of about five million students since the year 2000. Throughout high school, the importance of attending college is stressed nonstop, but one aspect of college is rarely discussed until it’s too late: the cost.
With the number of students enrolling in college rapidly rising, the costs of attending college has become one of the most contested political issues in the past few years. It was one of the major campaign platforms of presidential nominee Bernie Sanders, who advocated a system in which students could attend four-year colleges and universities free if they fell below a certain income level. Hillary Clinton, the eventual democratic nominee, led the movement for less progressive plan, but one that still included free college for eligible students. These plans represent a need for some serious adjustments in the ways in which a college education is funded.
This also sparks a much larger, and more difficult to answer, debate: is college a right or a privilege? With major political figures on both extremes of this issue, it’s hard to know where to stand. However, one undeniable fact is that the burden of student loans has very quickly grown to be a crisis for today’s students. The College Board estimated that the average cost per year for a four-year college or university in the 2016-2017 school year was $33,480 for private colleges. With the median American income at $51,939, it’s obvious that college is unaffordable for the average person without some type of financial assistance.
Financial assistance can come in a number of different forms, but often covers only a small portion of the total bill for college. The rest is usually paid for using loans, both through the government and private companies. These loans are then expected to be paid back starting six months after one is no longer in school, which, when thinking about the time that it takes to find a job and become established after graduation is a very short time period.
Additionally, the burden of loans after graduation cause an extreme amount of stress to those who are working to gain experience, often in relatively low-paying jobs, and who have to pay monthly on their loans. This discourages the traditional college graduate (around age twenty-three) from buying items such as a house or new car, as well as starting a family, because of high monthly payments on their loans. For example, someone paying one thousand dollars a month toward their loan may not be financially secure enough to take on a monthly mortgage payment of the same amount, therefore keeping them from buying their own home until their loans are paid off.
In order to address these problems, there needs to be a restructuring of the education system as a whole. The average school cannot expect students to pay more than half of their yearly income in tuition without significant financial aid. It would be most beneficial if college costs for four-year universities were paid for by the government, as long as the quality of education is not diminished. With reductions to defense spending, this could be done without a major increase in taxes. If the government was not able to decrease the budget for the military, then this plan could be easily accomplished by raising taxes a slight amount. While an increase in taxes is generally frowned upon by most citizens, the amount of money that could be saved in just a short amount of time through reduction of government financial assistance programs for college, as well as unemployment and cash assistance for those who are having difficulties finding jobs without a college degree, would surely offset those costs within just a couple of years.
Additionally, with a plan where public colleges are covered for students, those who choose to can still attend private colleges and have access to these loans. However, they shouldn’t be allowed to declare bankruptcy, as they chose to take on these loans. An increase in government programs that encourage students with loan debt to buy houses could help to eliminate some of the issues surrounding people declaring bankruptcy later in life if they can no longer afford student loan payments.
This issue is one that is extremely complex, as well as widely debated. There are no easy solutions to reducing or eliminating student debt, but it’s important that we continue to work on this issue, especially as more and more people enroll in college in the United States every year.
Students need to be vocal about their opinions to both their educational institutions and lawmakers in order to restructure a system that was not designed to carry the massive amount of students attending college today.