U.S. needs solutions for education costs, but not ‘free’ college or debt cancellation

Written by Alayna Hudson

August 14, 2019

Originally published in Deseret News

Many college students are preparing to hit the books again. As a very recent college graduate, I understand that the excitement and trepidation that comes with each academic year is overwhelming.

Especially when it comes with a high price tag and no guarantee of success.

In 2018-19, the average public university tuition per year was $25,290 for out-of-state tuition and $10,230 for in-state tuition. That doesn’t include housing, food and transportation.

Students in the United States on average have $31,172 in student loans, with a monthly payment of $393. Paying off this kind of debt could take anywhere from 10 to 30 years. Right now, 44 million borrowers owe $1.5 trillion in student loans in our country.

As a society, we say we support the pursuit of knowledge for the betterment of the public and the individual, but the price tag carried by students does not always reflect this sentiment. More people are beginning to see this reality too — and starting to look for solutions.

Still, despite what some politicians and candidates say, we shouldn’t just offer free college or cancel everyone’s debt.

Perhaps we need to make space for more affordable options, assist students in making wise choices up front or encourage students to work in order to pay for school where possible.

Some of this may sound nearly impossible, but it’s not.

I was lucky enough to attend a small private religious university, where some of the cost for tuition was subsidized by members of the church associated with this institution. I also spent time working two jobs, and I was fortunate enough to have some help from my parents.

Of course, it’s an amazing help that my college was subsidized by a church, but I also made a choice about great learning at an affordable price versus the “prestige” of a more expensive college.

Compare the estimated total cost of attendance at Princeton University — $73,450 — with that of Purdue University, at $22,812. What is the discrepancy between the education provided between these two universities? Has the value of higher education been eclipsed by the goal of social prestige?

Many students take out loans regardless of where they attend. But it’s also becoming more and more common for these same students to take out what is more than necessary.

There needs to be a cultural shift around big-name, often expensive, universities. Americans need to refocus on getting an education for the sake of attaining knowledge and skill, not status. We need to refocus on the needs of students. We need to stop seeing them as a price tag, but instead allow them to learn from experience. The experience that comes from real effort and sacrifice.

We should also think about how to help students make decisions about quality and value when it comes to education and the effects of debt.

Student loan debt is a crisis — students are living off borrowed money, and essentially on borrowed time.

Many argue students don’t have time to work and go to school, but research shows students may have more time then they think. Research shows “the average full-time college students engage in just 2.76 hours of education-related activities each day. … The 2.76 hours each day include just 1.18 hours of class time and 1.53 hours of homework.” This is according to research done by The Heritage Foundation.

While this is not true of all students, it is safe to say that a part-time job or more may not be off the table.

Research shows working between 10-20 hours a week as a college student has the potential to improve GPA. And having some “skin in the game” gives our students even more reason to cherish their education.

Free college sounds like a cure-all, but in fact, it removes necessary opposition that helps make our students successful adults. The benefits from working in college far outweigh the possible downsides.

The struggle to afford education will vary from student to student, but it doesn’t mean education should have no price tag.

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